A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Fifty—Critical Path-A Life-Changer

I remember the first time I was taught about the critical path.  We had a bunch of Post-It® notes with activities and durations written on them.  Our mission? Put them in the proper order, overlapping some as appropriate.  It looked something like the diagram here. And then we were told…OK, there are five paths. Find the longest path.  In this case, if you add the durations of the activities across each path, you find that the bottom path is the long one.  It’s 25 days. The first four-day piece of work is not under pressure.  Comparing it to the longest path, it has a free day!  

I remember learning this type of analysis for the first time. It seems so intuitive.  It’s simple. Simply look at how long work is going to take and you can determine if or when you’re going to push out the deadline. And while that concept is simple, the nature of time is not.

Lesson Learned: I love the different concepts of time, particularly when I think about how I arrange my day.  There’s “full time”…that’s time when my entire time and attention are required.  Teaching a class?  Full time. You can’t teach a class and do anything else.  If you want to get a point across, you need full focus. There’s “slack time” the naturally evolving breaks that show up in any schedule.  It’s often waiting time.  I get to the treatment facility…and wait.  There’s “zone time” That’s where I’m sitting or driving or doing some mundane activity and cannot do anything else.  But it’s also not mentally taxing. The different concepts of time (and there are dozens more) matter. As a result of the different natures of time, I’ve taken to leveraging them as best I can. For slack time, I’ll sometimes leave it as just that.  In fact, I’ll make a concerted effort to engage in an activity that requires zero brainpower. (One of my  favorites is watching the 1970’s television show—Hawaii Five-O. Jack Lord (our star) never forces me to fire off an extra neuron. It’s brainless and allows me to truly relax). For other slack time (waiting at the oncologist’s office, for example), I strive to plan ahead for it, with computer in tow. Many of these story  elements have been written waiting to hear the fateful words—“Mr. Pritchard!” I recently had a nurse apologize for the insanely long wait time in the waiting area. I looked down at my watch and realized I had been sitting, writing, for 45 minutes. I barely noticed, all because I planned ahead to leverage the time.

Critical path instruction geared me in that direction. When you know some things have to happen in a sequence, you can adhere to the sequence more effectively.  When you know there are going to be gaps in a sequence, you can accomplish a lot in the down time. That doesn’t mean you’re always working. It does mean that you know when you and Jack Lord are going to have some free moments to veg out and spend time together.

I may have gone overboard on all of this. I walk the dog only after I form loaves of bread in the morning since they need a last, 20-minute rise. I time out trips to various stores around the wait time for local restaurants with carryout. I’ve written articles, test questions and thought pieces by recording my thoughts while driving. It’s almost an obsession.  BUT, it’s a good obsession. As you only get one shot at time, it’s a remarkable phenomenon. Using “down time” to meditate, plan and cogitate is also time well-spent.

Ever marvel at people who get a lot done in their lives? I now live in the opposite universe.  I marvel at those who don’t.  I watch my wife in quiet awe as she tackles our finances, our civic group’s finances, our household stuff, her guitar practice, her time spent with friends and family, her caretaking for her mother, and the list goes on. I have friends who are writing their fourth, fifth or sixth book. I revere them. And then I see individuals letting the clock slip away from them, and it makes me crazy. 

Particularly since my diagnosis, I haven’t been able to look at time the same way.  Yes, even watching Jack Lord is something I count as a “must do.” I need down time. I need to keep teaching. I need to keep writing. I am striving to create artifacts that my children and extended family can look at and understand what life was like for the baby boom generation. I need time to sit on the couch with my wife.

Lesson Learned: Early in my project management career, I realized how important it was to distinguish needs from wants. And since my diagnosis, I’ve found that you have to constantly realize that needs may become wants and vice versa. Part of what I discovered was the distinction between alcohol and caffeine. My doctor told me I needed to avoid both. For months, I went along with that guidance, but found it was actually damaging my quality of life. I did some research and found that alcohol would interact with my medications, rendering them less effective, and potentially hinder the healing process.  I chalked that up as a need, and left my single malt on the shelf. Caffeine, however, proved to be one of those things that in moderation didn’t actually impact the healing process. I now have one cup of coffee every morning, pretty much guiltlessly.

All too often in our lives we dictate (or others dictate for us) needs as wants (and vice versa). It’s a dangerous row to hoe. You need to wear a mask. No. In fact, a friend who contracted RSV discovered that wearing a mask is directly harmful for those with that particular virus. You need to keep the kids indoors. No. As children, we got diseases and infections on a ritual basis, enabling us to survive in the cold, hard world. You need to… You get the idea.

I will continue to celebrate my life on planet earth servicing the needs in my world. And when I want the wants? I’ll seriously consider them, as well. But I’ll make sure I’m making the decision based on the distinction…as it’s important, and it respects my time.

Up next? Back in the Saddle—Personal Reinvention

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.