Managing Multiple Opportunities
By Carl Pritchard

We often consider the juggling acts that are essential to our day-to-day lives just to get things done.  Work, home, hobbies, recovery time.  It’s challenging to try to keep all of the myriad projects we have up in the air at the same time.  Trying to balance the need to recaulk the shower stall against the need to answer e-mail against the need to get the latest proposal out the door is a daunting task at best.  And in the midst of such flurries of activity, the first things that generally get sacrificed are life’s pleasures.

While Americans seem to be becoming the society of instant gratification, many in our workforce are actually the masters of delayed (or even foregone) gratification.  The workaholic tendencies so many of us embrace (particularly in tough economic times) leave little or no window for rest and relaxation.

If you’re one of the guilty parties here, you may raise your hand now.


That’s a lot of hands.

As I write this, I am preparing to have an opportunity to practice what I preach.  I’m teaching a class in just four days.  The class is “Managing Multiple Projects.”  What makes it special is that the class is on board the Carnival Cruise ship Sensation.  Seminars at Sea.  You have to love that.  My lovely wife, Nancy, is going along (odd how she doesn’t seem to join me when I have work in Detroit).  But as I gear up for this opportunity, I am rapidly coming to the realization that with 11 hours of training on a 72-hour cruise, I have a lot of opportunity to cram in there.  I don’t want to miss out on the Bahamas while work absorbs me.  But…the e-mail does need checked.

I’ve already begun to map out my strategy for the Nassau trip, and it includes a lot of the gospel that I preach in the Managing Multiple Projects course.  I’m setting priorities and affirming them with my partner.  I’m putting her in on the decision-making loop to help determine when and how certain work activities  will be woven in and when and how they will be taboo.

Work?  Taboo?  Yes.  From the moment the ship docks in Nassau, work is an off-limits topic.  No laptop.  No work-oriented conversation.

Carl?  What if one of your students approaches you on the docks with a question about the class?

I’ve actually thought about that.  For one, I plan to use this as a classroom example!  I will warn the students well ahead of time when they are my priority and when they’re not.  As the customer, they will be clear on where they fit in the pecking order and when.  When class is on?  They’re tops.  When we’re at sea and they see me in the hall, they can supplant my wife for brief questions, but not long ones.  When I’m ashore or tucked into bed?  My personal life will take precedence.  What will (hopefully) make this work is that they’ll know.  They’ll know up front.  They won’t be surprised to find themselves at different positions on my priority list.  And they’ll also know it’s not because they are being disrespected.  It’s because I want to show consistent degrees of deference across the various aspects…the various projects…going on in my life.

In watching the television show, Criminal Minds, I am witness to the most consistent display of how this is all done miserably.  The cast surrenders everything on the altar of work.  They have no personal lives (and when their personal lives are on display, it’s to show how they will run away from the joys in life at a moment’s notice to solve the latest crime).  Great television.  Miserable planning of the multiple opportunities in their lives.

What would make it right?  For one, the players who have some sunshine in their lives would actually spend some time there.  They would isolate those moments, keeping themselves fresh and refreshed by the chance to spend time away from the intense challenges of their positions.  For two, they would actually identify how and when their opportunities will usurp work, rather than always leaving it the other way around.

I had just such an opportunity recently.  After multiple months of serious back pain, a truly skilled pain specialist found an opening in his schedule that directly conflicted with some scheduled work.  Conventionally, I would have surrendered my back on the altar of work, but instead, chose the opportunity side.  I apologized to the client, rescheduled the engagement, and went in for in-office surgery.

My life is seriously looking up.  Why?  For one, my back doesn’t hurt nearly as much.  But in many ways, I think part of the healing process is that I know that I respected myself enough to actually commit the time to take care of myself.

This ties, in some ways, to what my sister, Ginny, says about the opportunities in her life. “I have never regretted a dollar or minute I’ve spent building a memory.”  She knows what she considers the great opportunities in her life, and those around her know it, too.  And they know if they want to get on her (very crowded) calendar, there’s a simple strategy.  Find a way to convince her that either they’re a higher priority OR it’ll generate a wonderful memory.  It’ll push their agenda up her priority list.  And in the process, it will make the experience more fruitful for all concerned.

(c) 2010 Pritchard Management Associates, Carl Pritchard