[This article first appeared in the June edition of Corporate Report Wisconsin (www.crwmag.com.)]
“For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action.
You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.”
— Mary Kay Ash
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” When adversity strikes, knuckle down, put your nose to the grindstone, dig in your heels, tough it out. Work harder.
I used to do that, but not any more. Now, when the going gets tough, I snap closed my computer, put on a pair of hiking boots, round up my dogs, and head out for an hour, an afternoon, maybe even a day or two to clear my head. I call it management by walking away. And it works.
In the past, when I had four days worth of work to knock out in two days, or a client who’d say, “Nice, John, but I was hoping for something a bit different. Can you have these changes for me first thing tomorrow morning?” I’d put on the coffee, give up a night’s sleep, and forge ahead. This can-do mentality may have worked, but at what a price!
In fact, back in 1988, just coming off a massive training project for RCI Resorts, and ready to take a week off, the phone rang. A good client, CUNA Mutual Life, needed a project done ASAP. I took on the project, did a fine job, and slipped into a dark mental depression that lasted six months and almost destroyed me, my marriage, and my business.
Desperate and, literally needing to escape, I retreated to the New Melleray Monastery just south of Dubuque, where I took several days to think, sleep, regain perspective. I also came home with a fierce realization that something had to change.
Since then, I’ve mastered this art of walking away. When times get tough…
1. Take a break. Plowing through and forging ahead by sheer determination often works. However, when you can feel your blood pressure climb and that cold knot form in your gut, push back and take a walk around the block, if only to clear your head. I have found that there are some problems I have wrestled with for hours or days and gotten nowhere. The simple act of getting away from them for a while has enabled me on many occasions to jump back in and cut through them like a hot knife through butter.
2. Sleep on it. When wresting with a tough problem, I sometimes review it in my mind before going to sleep and then mentally put it aside. About one in three times, I awake with the solution. Try it.
3. Change the rules; change the deadline. When I get in over my head, I will occasionally contact a client and see if there is maybe a day or week extra time available. Also, when developing a critical path for a project, I build in a few days of safety-net time.
4. Reduce your commitment load. I tend to over-commit outside of work. I take on Lions projects or church responsibilities or community activities that I enjoy. These are great business diversions. However, if they begin driving up my stress level, I have learned to turn down that committee chairmanship or take a sabbatical from form some obligations. Nobody ever objects; everybody understands. Most of all, this is a lot better than trying to bull my way through and ending up screwing up, getting surly or both.
Caution: Do not use stress and work challenges as an excuse to neglect your obligations. I know one fellow who was always in financial trouble. So, when in doubt, he would buy a super home gym ($995, in ten easy payments) or pack up the family and head off to Disneyland for a week. All he did was compound his troubles.
The bottom line: Don’t let tough times overwhelm you. Manage your time and your involvement, and don’t be afraid to walk away.
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John Ingrisano is a Northeast Wisconsin marketing strategist and regional economic development consultant who does some of his best work fishing on Lake Michigan or roaming the back roads and streets of his hometown, Algoma. If he’s in, you can reach him at john@TheFreestyleEntrepreneur.com.
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