When Your Carefully Constructed Plans Begin to Spill from Your Grasp

Saturday is a wonderful day of polar opposites. It is a day set aside for both relaxation and catching up on projects, both reflective quiet time and the precious chaos of a full day with your offspring.

On this particular Saturday, picture me reorganizing the front closet while trying to understand why four people would need 30 smelly pairs of shoes in the same season. Once we determined which shoes would stay and which would be transferred to bedroom closets, the kids set out to finish the task. Trouble was, my five-year-old boy had bigger goals that morning, like tag, LEGO, and general rowdiness.

When I assured him he could continue playing once his water wear, sandals, and dress shoes were back in his closet, he proceeded to gather all four pairs in his arms and bolt for the bedroom.

Well, attempt to bolt. At first, only a single shoe tumbled to the floor. Then another as he bent to retrieve what he’d lost. Frustration mounted as each rescue attempt sent one or two more shoes bouncing away. To his credit, he didn’t give up. Instead, he scrunched the shoes tight to his chest and inched forward as though his cargo had suddenly gone from neoprene to nitro.

For a boy who has been all systems go since the dawn of his time, watching him grind down to first gear (otherwise known as “Daddy speed”) was extraordinary. I finally saw what he looks like without the blur.

Between chuckles, I couldn’t help noting that if he had decided to make two trips, he would already have been finished. And that’s when I realized how much he looked like me.

Not until he slowed the process and calibrated a new course did he realize his goal. With the hindrance removed, success was only a matter of time. (Resume tag, LEGO, and general rowdiness.)

If you’re older than five, you already know that taking “just enough” actually gets you to your goal faster than taking too much at once. Not necessarily faster than you wanted, but faster than if you had overloaded yourself.

What is more difficult to pinpoint is how much is “just enough”. How much can I bite off without getting chewed up by the process? How much can I take on before I feel I can’t go on?

When it comes to personal pursuits, I’ve taken on too much in the past and dropped it all when I couldn’t keep up with my self-imposed time frame. As a result, I’ve focused on and struggled through a process of trying to discover how much is “just enough”.

But I realized eventually that I’d been asking the wrong question. Achieving goals is partly about how much there is to do, but mostly about how much there is to do in the time allotted.

In other words, how much doesn’t matter as much as how long.

When we take on too much in an effort to finish faster, we become more susceptible to burnout, discouragement, and frustration. Don’t know about you, but I’d rather enjoy the journey.

Yes, we want it now. Yes, we need to keep working toward our goals. But if you’re losing the joy of the pursuit amid the “muchness” of it all–especially to the point of not finishing–you may have taken on too many shoes.

When that happens, it’s time to change the deadline.

Let me clarify: I don’t promote shifting deadlines willy-nilly in a futile attempt at avoiding failure. Rather, when you have the freedom to do so, allow your deadlines to be fluid while you discover your rhythm.

Setting an arbitrary date at the outset of a new or unfamiliar project doesn’t mean that it’s the best course of action. So, while you are discerning and developing your rhythm, don’t let missed deadlines grind you down. Change the date and press on. Once you discover a realistic sense of your time constraints and capabilities, then become more ruthless with your deadlines.

And you might find you still have time to play.

(P.S. If you find you really are overloaded and a simple change in deadlines isn’t enough, this may help.)