Shit Multiplies

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

I have a recurring stressful dream where I'm staying somewhere away from home (a hotel, friend's house, vacation house, etc.). In the dream, it's time to get packed in order to leave. However I can't because all my things are strewn everywhere and mixed in with the other items in the house. Many times, they are mixed in with other people's items. I can't go until I sort out and collect all my things.

Now there are dreams that include subtle and difficult to interpret symbolism... but this isn't one of them. No, this is what I call a "getting your shit together" dream and it's a signal to me to take some time to organize my life in general (or alternately that I'm worried about organizing my life).

In my last project execution post, I talked about Logistics, particularly as it applies to project execution. And in the Organization post, I suggested a bunch of different ways of keeping track of all the stuff you have going on when you're in the midst of a PMPM working. Today I'm going to focus on dealing with things when things are going wrong.

Because let's face it, no matter how great your goal is or how well-planned your project, if your life is a giant chaotic disaster, it's going to be hard to execute. Beyond that, a life that is reasonably organized is more sustainable. But no matter how much effort you put into keeping your shit together, things will tend to go sideways. Which means that getting your shit back together is a critical life skill.

But getting your life under control is often way harder than it looks... and that's because shit multiplies.


The old adage that bad luck comes in threes has actually been born out by science -- specifically chaos theory. I'm not going to dig too deep into the details here, because I know just enough to embarrass myself. However, according to non-linear dynamics, in highly complex systems with many moving parts -- like a human life -- there's a mathematical tendency for situations to appear in random-seeming clumps. So there's that time when you had to put your dog down the same week as someone in your family had an accident and there was a ton of unusual work pressure.

Nonlinear dynamics makes me crave doughnuts...

There's also an interesting concept of a strange attractor, which is some event that attracts other related events to it. So you are short cash and your car suffers deferred maintenance, which means it breaks down by the side of the road, but you can't afford to tow it so it gets broken into, and you end up late for work because the bus sucks, and your boss fires you thereby making your money situation worse.

Note, this applies to good stuff too, and there are things you can do when things are going well to reduce the chance of them going badly later. I always advocate doing magic and getting organized in advance of things going wrong -- which is the kind of annoying advice that's easier to give than to take (even for me). However this post is about when things are messed up -- either generally disorganized or because of specific current issues. So let's put that aside. The time for preventative medicine is over and the shit is multiplying rapidly. What to do?


If you are beset with troubles and dealing with several issues at once, there are several techniques that you can use to try to assess some kind of response.

Center of Gravity
If there is a single issue that seems to be your strange attractor, it makes sense to attack that item first. For example, let's say your job is really stressful. This is impacting your health, putting a strain on your finances as you visit various doctors, and causing strife in your family life. I know this seems obvious, but I was in this, er, I mean I've known people in this situation and the tendency is to work on the health and the family... and not deal with the central issue. Fix the job and everything else will start to sort itself out. This is one of those things that's way easier to see if you aren't in the midst of it.

Dependencies
Sometimes problems are like links in a chain. You have to deal with things one at a time. Yes, it would be nice if you could find true love, but if you are also in the middle of dealing with a career blow up and a cross-country move... one thing at a time. Sure, if love comes for you, you have to grab it. But in the mean time you need to take things as they come -- first things first. It's not that you can't have several projects going at the same time. But when things are going wrong and need to be fixed, you have to priorities where you put your energy. Which brings us to...

Triage
Triage is a model for prioritizing patients in order to optimize patient outcomes. It also neatly applies to problem solving and goal setting.

Let's say you are currently wrestling with the following issues:
  • Your lease is coming up and you are worried that the landlord will jack up the rent and you won't be able to afford it.
  • Your job security is increasingly sketchy.
  • You aren't getting along with your extended family.
  • You would really like to have love in your life.
  • You want to be more creative and spontaneous in your life.
These are all great goals. However from a triage standpoint, you really need to focus on your housing first and your job a close second. While the US still embarrassingly suffers from hunger, it's actually easier to access free food and water than housing (ok, Flint might be an exception -- though I think that's a case of the deliberate poisoning of certain populations by people in power).

Forget about survival shows set in the forest or jungle. In the jungle of the modern world, an address is the most critical survival need. For anyone currently renting in a city like Portland (where prices are skyrocketing and landlords -- many of them out of state businesses with souls made of burned sulfur -- are pricing people out of the places they've lived for years) I can only suggest that if both your job and your housing are in dire straights you might take the leap and consider moving. However, whether you want to move or not, you will need to put your energy into making sure you have a place to live.

Of course the job is a close second and there are a number of different ways you can proceed. You can shore up your employer or position so that it survives. The trouble here is that if you hate your job that can impact your ability to make that kind of magic effective. In that case, it's better to enchant for a new job.

But ironically, as you sort our your basic security, it's also a good time to work on your relationships. Because connections with people are great for helping you find the resources you need.

For job hunting, you should particularly look at building "weak connections" -- people who know you but who aren't close friends. That's because your close-knit circle probably know of all the same opportunities you do, but your acquaintances will know things you don't. That's the strength of LinkedIn by the way, it doesn't expect you to be friends with (or overshare with) everyone on your list.

On the other hand, family is who you count on let you crash on their couch in a pinch. So strong connections are the best ones here.

Triage also says that you get the bleeding stopped first. That means dealing with the emergency cases (house, job) before the routine care (creativity).

And I know this seems obvious when you read it, but when you are in the middle of it, it's harder to see. One of the key things that an adviser (a therapist, mentor, consultant, etc.) can do for you is give you that perspective. And everyone has this issue, myself included.

So if you aren't knee-deep in it, think about those connections and networks. Don't neglect them. Because into every life, some poo will land. And we all need help getting out with our shoes clean and ourselves intact.

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