This year might feel worse or stranger than others. One crisis after another after another. In my neighborhood, for instance, we’ve got a tropical storm coming just to make the summer a bit more interesting. Yet how much are people expected to take? The answer is that no one really knows. However, I thought I’d use this post to offer a little advice on how to respond.
I’ve become a fan of Stoicism over the years, if only because I tend to be a tad emotional and overly talkative when I’m stressed. The most important lesson the Stoics teach–and we’ve been living with it in the West for a couple millennia now–is that it’s not what happens to you that matters but how you respond to it.
Ideally you should take on your problems calmly, one at a time. Yes, you might have a work crisis and a personal problem and a dose of bad weather hitting you all at the same time. That doesn’t mean you need to respond to all of them all at the same time.
- Work crisis? Yes, it might be a problem with your biggest client or most important project. That doesn’t mean you need to take on the entire problem and all of its tertiary branches right that instant. What’s the immediate problem? How long will it take? Handle the immediate concern. If there are people yelling at you, tell them to wait until you fix the problem in front of you. If there are other concerns related to that specific problem, address them after you get the one thing accomplished first.
- Personal crisis? Again, what can be done right at this moment? Sometimes the answer is to pause, listen, and think (this is good for work crises, too).
- Storm coming? Get indoors. In a few days? Go buy supplies when you get a moment.
What order do you do things? Honestly, I’d take on the physical thing–the storm–first and get out of the rain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think too clearly if I’m outside in the midst of a thunderstorm. So: check that box. If you’re on the clock and the personal/family matter intrudes, you have to make a judgment call. Sometimes the answer is, “I can help you, but I need a minute/hour to finish what I’m doing.” Depending on how prioritize things, you will say that to your loved one or your employer/customer so you can go do the other thing.
In the end, our lives end up being a sum of all the choices we make: not just what we accomplish, but what problems we solve and in what manner (kind or not so kind). The best way to do all those things, though, is one at a time. In my experience, multitasking never made a complicated situation better. So do the things you need to do, ideally with a clear head, one at a time.