Snow days, time management, and chess

photo-131When 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?

12 thoughts on “Snow days, time management, and chess

  1. I feel like I’m always thinking a few moves ahead. “Seeing all the possibilities” relieves stress when you’re prepared for a change of plan, but it also can cause stress when you see potential for things that might not happen. You have to have the mental capacity to think ahead and plan, tempered with the emotional capacity to re-stabilize and let go.

    1. @Leanne- that is true. There is a trade off. In the particular case described, I wasn’t trading off anything particularly important to me in order to work on Sunday and plan for Monday’s potential problems. I don’t think I would have been happy if I’d wanted to go skiing, and canceled those plans. In that case, you sometimes try to think even farther ahead, I guess. Could I have worked Saturday and then gone skiing Sunday, perhaps.

        1. Tylenol lasts longer than anything topical would, but it doesn’t last as long as Motrin. We’re full up on motrin again and the fourth vampire tooth has finally poked through. Next up: Two year molars!

  2. I would love to see a conversation here about the book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. Have you heard of it? Another fascinating non-fiction read is Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories. I grabbed it after his recent editorial in the Sunday NYTimes. Heavy on the science, which you might like.

    Regarding chess moves, the hardest part of parenting and moving forward my own professional goals is managing energy. I think I set out to accomplish too much, or I just don’t have as much energy as those to whom I compare myself each day. For me, managing energy and how I feel is strongly tied to the narrative I tell myself about how stressful life is.

    1. @Griffin – I read Good Calories Bad Calories a few years ago to review it. It was dense. I think it’s partly that Taubes isn’t a doctor, and he was trying to assure readers that he knew his science and medicine, and so erred on the side of putting it all in. At times the narrative suffers as a result, though it’s an interesting thesis. And one reason I now eat eggs for breakfast.

      1. Ah, now I understand my own reaction to the book. Interesting, yes, but I was not a chemistry major for a reason. I find myself skimming until I fall upon more interesting narrative parts or until I find him drawing a conclusion, at which point I back track to see how he got there and whether or not I buy it.

  3. It is part of my job to think a many moves ahead, and it has been part of my job for so long that it is basically habit now. So I’m always making contingency plans! I agree, that this is one of the keys to meeting deadlines.
    For books: are you looking for non-fiction or fiction? In non-fiction, I think you’d probably enjoy My Year without Pants, which I will get around to writing up on my blog one of these days (it is about working at, a 100% distributed company).

    1. @Cloud- yep. Maybe it’s just been part of my life for a while too — it doesn’t seem that tough to me, but I know different people work different ways and I try to be understanding of different personalities. When 168 Hours came out, a few people wrote in articles about it that I’d turned in the manuscript 8 days after giving birth to my second child. That was offered as evidence for something about my relationship with time and productivity, I guess, but I don’t see it as strange. I knew the book deadline 8 months in advance, and I knew my baby was coming for 8 months, so neither was a surprise. I planned ahead for both.

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