Do the Next Best Thing


Six years ago I had a breakthrough in learning how to stop getting stuck in overwhelm by doing the next best thing.

I was working on HUGE client project which involved interviewing seventy plus people over the course of a month and a half, evaluating the data and drafting a report which was due to the client the beginning of October. Not a problem. I’m a planner and I love laying out a project step by step. I don’t even mind deadlines. I’m one of those weirdos who always had her undergrad term papers done a week early. And I majored in English AND history, so there were a lot of papers.

My best friend, Brandie Kajino, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the previous spring, was just beginning to feel like herself again thanks to an aggressive chemotherapy regimen. So we decided to make a day of it and drive to Hood River to drive the Fruit Loop and enjoy the fall colors. We picked a Friday in early October, and Cory agreed took a vacation day to chauffeur us and participate in the merriment.

I had a meeting with my client the Thursday before our grand day out, but I wasn’t worried because the report was 99.9% complete. I figured I’d attend the meeting, make a few minor edits and deliver the report by the end of the day aiming to surprise and delight the client, since the report wasn’t due until the following Tuesday.

Thursday I attended the meeting and soon realized that the client wanted a complete rewrite of a large section of the report, to include information which he had yet to send me. There were numerous other revision requests as well. And they’d like the final draft first thing Monday morning.

Alrighty then.

My mind begins to calculate how much time it would take me to redraft the document once I received the additional materials. It would easily take three full days, maybe longer.

I thought about rescheduling with my friend. Cory had already requested and received the day off work. They’d both be disappointed. Hell, I was disappointed. I’d been working my ass off. I was exhausted. The project’s schedule had shifted several times. What if it were to shift again and I’d have to reschedule again?

So fuck it, I decided to take the day off with Cory and Brandie as planned. And I was going to enjoy every last moment of it. Because life was short, Brandy’s cancer was terminal, and none of us really know how much time we have left. This was what was important.

So we did it. We laughed and we bought chestnuts and pears and pies. And we laughed some more. It was a wonderful day. A perfect day.

Stopping for bagels before driving to Hood River

And the next day I reviewed at the emails that had arrived in my absence. I organized my thoughts, all of the sections of the report, all of my notes and all of my client’s requests. I prioritized them and then I got to work on one thing at a time.

Whenever I felt like I couldn’t do it or that I didn’t know what to tackle next I’d ask myself, “What’s the next best thing?” And that’s what I’d do. Until it was done. Then the next thing.

Sunday evening around 9:00 p.m. was when I first began to feel like I was going to actually finish in time, and when I sent over the final document at 1:30 a.m. Monday I was elated. And so very proud of myself.

Brandie left us on this day five years ago. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about the glorious fall day Brandie, Cory and I spent in Hood River together. And I’m so very proud of myself.