Shirt Happens - Next Action Associates

The shirt had been white.

It mostly still was, but the crisp pressed cotton now had a fan-like pattern of tomato guts sprayed across the front. Perfect if I had been heading off to film the climax of a horror movie, but my meetings that morning called for something less sanguine. I was going to have to change, and pronto. As I hadn’t factored the change of shirt into my morning, I was now going to be late getting out the door.

It was only later that I realized that while I hadn’t factored the change of shirt into my day, I had basically prepared the ground for it to happen. How so? Well, tomatoes don’t give up their guts for just any old knife. They reserve that dramatic final gesture for knives of a particular quality. It’s only when the edge of a knife has been worn round enough that it won’t easily slice the skin that one applies the extra pressure necessary to have a tomato go all Hitchcock on you. I hadn’t sharpened the knife for too long, so the emergency shirt change was basically pre-programmed by my inattention. A seemingly innocuous lack of basic maintenance had created an unnecessary urgency in my day.

I don’t know if it is 80 or 90%, but much of life is maintenance. If we don’t recognize that, and have a plan for getting it handled, then we’re setting ourselves up for more emergencies than we probably want.

Don’t sharpen your knives? You’ll get to wash more shirts.

Don’t feed yourself well or get enough sleep? You’ll get to know the medical system better than you want to.

Don’t clear off your desk, or clear out your inboxes? You’ll spend more time looking for things and living with a higher background stress level than is really necessary.

No time for a Weekly Review®? Welcome to preventable emergencies hoovering up time that you could have used to move forward on things that matter to you.

If you look at world-class experts in any domain of life, and simply observe what it takes to perform at the highest level with the least amount of stress, you’ll find a there is a ton of maintenance going on.

I’d go so far as to say that if we strip a full and satisfying life back to the very basics, we have just 3 jobs:

  1. Maintaining or improving our health
  2. Maintaining or improving our relationships
  3. Doing the job we get paid for (much of which is maintenance)

Two of the above don’t pay us cash dollars, and will cut us a ton of slack if we don’t give them enough attention over long stretches of time. Until suddenly they’re done with slack, and demand outsize attention to get things back on track. One of the above gets way more attention than it deserves, given that it is mostly a support for the other two.

You need to do the maintenance to be ready for the fun stuff. If we don’t do the boring, basic maintenance of our bodies, nothing much bad happens in the short term. It’s only later that we lose the mountain walks, the surfing, or the dancing.

Similarly, we lose the joy of achievement in our work, because we get so busy dealing with emergencies that were created by not handling our communications in a timely manner.

If every time we want to eat something we have to clean the pots, plates and cutlery we need to enjoy the meal…, well, we’ll not enjoy the meal nearly as much. The same holds in other areas. It’s why we suggest a systematic approach to handling your workflow, so you can be clear on whether the maintenance aspects of your workflow are getting handled consistently – or not.

It’s that, or live with the workflow equivalent of having Norman Bates doing your wardrobe planning.

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