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.

I resolve to…

Close up , colorful pushpins on calendar

Close up , colorful pushpins on calendar

Several years ago I was looking back, and I had an overall tinge of regret, sensing that I spent too much time reclining in the sidelines and not enough time balls-to-the wall embracing my life.

Sidelined by kids’ schedules, work schedules, the limits of one car for a household of three drivers and the limits of my own mind.

This made me uncomfortable. I resolved to do something else. Or eat something else. Or shop for something else.

It seems I was always waiting for the perfect timing…for school to start so I could regain my infamous fall focus; for summer to arrive to spend time with family; for the Christmas holiday so I could regroup and refocus.

So when do I actually jump up, jump in and take action? The time is now. Everything I will do in my life I do now. I have no more excuses. Now is the time to read more exceptional books. To spend time with people who kick my ass and make me better. To watch less mind-numbing TV. To move more. To love more. To be more.

Now is the time to step off the sidelines and into the action.


To throw myself into relationships, projects and work with reckless abandon.

To embrace my choices because, let’s face it, how I live my life is my choice. I choose each moment of every day what my life will look like. I acknowledge it and either embrace it or change course. No excuses.

What’s the most important thing I need to do today?

Your clients don’t care

happyYour clients don’t care if…

…you’re having a bad day.

…you don’t feel well.

…your car breaks down.

…your computer is acting up.

…you don’t feel like working.

Your clients hired you to do a job. They only care about the outcome. Do the job you said you would do in the timeframe you said you’d do it. 

Don’t complain. Don’t make excuses. You signed up for this.

Shake off everything else and hunker down and get it done.

No excuses.

When is the best time to take a break?

ChineseWhen should you take a break from work? Most people assume weekends and evenings are the best time to take time off, but I’m not convinced. I’d like to suggest that everyone is different, and that’s O.K. Actually, it’s more than O.K.

My son’s schedule is such that he has Sundays and Thursdays off which means that if I want to spend time with him, I take half a day on Thursday, and we hang out. A couple of weeks ago we spent several hours exploring the tranquility of the Chinese Garden, eating ramen and visiting kitties at LexiDog before stopping for ice cream. During our leisurely wanderings we happened upon a tribute to Robin Williams which inspired us both.

My point is you have to take the time when it presents itself. The “off” times are also often the least busy. It’s like grocery shopping on a Wednesday morning instead of a Saturday. Right?

There’s also something to be said for a person’s own preferences. Some of us are night owls; others thrive when we accomplish the bulk of our work before 10:00 a.m. Don’t fight it. Work with your natural proclivities instead of against them. It’s called flow.

I’m much more productive when I’m working in a state of flow. Ideas come easily. I process and make connections quickly. I get much more accomplished when I work steadily on a project every day, a bit at a time, than if I slam it out when faced with a short deadline. Bonus: the outcome is a superior project.

What works best for you?