When our school district calls a snow day, the phone no longer rings at 5:30 a.m. Apparently they got a lot of complaints about the old rise-and-shine robo-call system. Now, if the district makes a game time decision to cancel classes, they just email us. But they’ve been emailing us a lot this winter. And that has reminded me of something I first realized a few years ago: time management is like playing chess. To play, you need to think a few moves ahead. You need to account for snow days and the like, so you can keep moving forward even as life happens.
For instance, I had agreed to turn something in this Tuesday. Because I was traveling last week, I planned to do the bulk of it Monday. However, the weather forecast this weekend made it sound like another blizzard was headed for the Philadelphia area. When we get a lot of snow, the city of Philadelphia takes a long time to plow the side streets, and our sitter can’t get here. Plus our district cancels school. So that means we have 3 kids around the house all day, which makes it hard to concentrate. My husband and I can switch off, but he also had some things he needed to do Monday.
Because we knew this was a possibility, though, I turned Sunday into a work day. My husband took the two boys skiing. I plopped our 2-year-old in front of her favorite TV show for about 90 minutes in the AM while I worked. Then we took a break and went to the Y’s indoor pool for a while. We came home and she took an epic nap. I mean epic. I got another 3 hours of work done. Then she woke up and we played until the skiers returned for dinner. I did another 2.5 hours of work after dinner while my husband had the kids, and after the kids went to bed. Logging 7 hours of work on Sunday meant my Monday work was 80 percent done.
Then, lo and behold, the blizzard turned into a mere 1.5 inches of accumulation. The district did cancel school, but our sitter made it here. So I had a pretty chill Monday. I played outside for an hour in the snow with the boys. I made enough progress on some things that I think I’ll be able to take the 4-year-old swimming during “PFD free swim” in the afternoon some day this week.
Looking back on how I spent Sunday, I’m not unhappy with the trade off. To be sure, if I’d lamented my snow day problems, I probably could have gotten an extension. I generally try not to do that, though, because I think part of being reliable is building in potential delays to your estimation of how long things take. And I didn’t exactly lose big on the deal either. Most of the time I spent working on Sunday could easily have become puttering time (I’m still trying to find a book I really want to read). The boys got to ski, and the only real trade-off for my daughter was the 90 minutes I stuck her in front of Peter Rabbit, which she was thrilled about. My husband had a lot of kid time over the weekend, but his trade off was the ability to work Monday, whatever happened.
I think getting into the habit of thinking a few moves ahead is one of the harder adjustments people have to make when they find themselves responsible for other people — both in our personal lives and at work. For me, thinking a few moves ahead is usually about childcare. But it’s also part of management, too. You’re in charge of a team, and you’re responsible for delivering a project at a certain date and then boom! One of your team members is out with the flu for a week. That can be a crisis, and it can delay the project, or perhaps you’ve already thought a few moves ahead. You’ve figured out who you’d rope in as back-up, or how the budgeted time for any given component could be made up somewhere else. That’s how a chess master plays — and it’s how people who are good with time learn to play too.
When’s the last time you thought a few moves ahead?