I was home with a sick girl today- Petunia's been running a fever for two days. Mr. Snarky stayed home with her yesterday, and today was my turn. To be honest, neither of us really minded our turn, because we're both sort of sick, too. We have an annoying low grade cold that includes a headache and a cough. And my voice is doing that thing it does when I get sick and it decides that by the end of the day I should sound like a cross between a frog and Kathleen Turner playing a role in which she is only allowed to whisper.
When she is sick, Petunia mostly wants to sit on the sofa and snuggle while we watch shows. I was able to piece together roughly 1.5 hours of work today, but that came in bits and pieces, mostly spent sending emails that would help keep my various projects on track. And of course, I had plenty of time to think about both my work and home projects while I sat on the sofa and snuggled.
I think it is interesting to look at what I do when my work time is severely compressed like this. Today, I focused on three projects. We have a big upgrade scheduled for this weekend, and I am "quarterbacking" it (tracking the tasks and making sure everyone knows when to do their part). I sent emails to make sure we were ready to go, and then sent out the email notifying the rest of the company of the outages that would be required. We have another project that is trying to get started. I read the technical specification so that the kickoff wasn't held up waiting for my input. And we have a third project that is struggling to finish, so I sent a couple of emails trying to get it over the latest hurdles. The rest of my time was spent clearing out administrative emails, so that they wouldn't consume too much time when I get back to work.
There is nothing surprising in that list- it is just an intensified version of my standard prioritization process. Every weekday morning, I write a to do list of the three to six things I want to accomplish that day. Sometimes, I'll jot down items for the next day's list towards the end of a day, but for the most part, I write the list while I drink my morning tea. It contains the most urgent and high value things that I can do that day: things in which I am holding up a project, or things that I can do that will help a project along. There is a bit of an art to writing that list- sometimes the items are obvious, sometimes they aren't. It is similar to what I said in a Twitter exchange with @creakyvoice after my kanban post- with any project management technique, there is skill in figuring out how to structure the work, and that skill is something that gets better with practice.
Given my approach to to do lists, it is not surprising that the section about to do lists was one of the many parts of Laura Vanderkam's latest eBook, What the Most Successful People Do at Work, that really resonated with me. One of the women she profiles limits her to do list to 6 items: 3 "must dos" for the day and 3 small tasks towards bigger goals. I am not that rigid in how I structure my daily list. Some days my list skews more towards immediate deadlines, and some days my list skews more towards longer term goals. But I have always had a short daily list.
For awhile, I started letting my daily list get longer, and it crept into a two or three day list. I realized that was decreasing the utility of the list, but wasn't sure what to do about it. Then I started reading about kanban, and realized I needed a list to explicitly acknowledge the tasks that are in progress, even if they aren't on that day's to do list. I created a personal work kanban board with my backlog and in progress tasks, and switched back to true daily lists, and I have felt my days get more productive.
Maybe the years of practice in identifying the three or four top priority items makes days like today easier, or maybe it doesn't. I obviously can't do the controlled experiment. Certainly, knowing my top priority tasks (at work and at home) helps me to make the most of small pockets of time, and that is one of the things that eases the inevitable stress points in my life as a relatively ambitious and career-focused mother of small children. Kids get sick, and they rarely consult your work schedule before doing so. Petunia doesn't really care about my work deadlines, and I don't want her to. If she wants snuggles when she is sick, she mostly gets them. But even with a full day of snuggles and the fact that I also napped through half of her nap, I was able to get enough work done to keep things on track. I didn't really make any progress, but I didn't lose ground, either.
The idea of "quality time" has been so overused in the parenting realm that it has become a semi-ironic cliche, but for me, applying the same idea to work can really pay off.
What do you do when you or your kids get sick? Do you try to work, or do you let it slide?