In the weeds

In the WeedsOne evening, I was watching one of those cooking competition shows with my wife. One of the contestants was in the midst of a particularly stressful moment in her meal preparation. She was working on five different components to her meal, as the stove top flared up, a mixing bowl was knocked over, and she couldn’t locate the kosher salt. The omnipresent ticking clock was dipping under 3 minutes to go when another contestant asked her how she was doing. Her reply? “I’m in the weeds.”

I don’t believe I had ever heard that phrase, yet I knew exactly what she meant by it. That chest tightening- panic induced cocktail, part dread, part helplessness with a dash of frustration and disappointment, shaken not stirred.

Last fall I found myself in a similar situation. Though not in a cooking competition, I was just drowning under the weight of a smorgasbord of work …multiple projects, deadlines, budget cuts, exasperating decisions that were out of my control, on top of my everyday work/life responsibilities. One small part of those obligations was helping get the word out for the District 2 Fall Social. I was emailing back and forth with a fellow PRPS member about how surprised I was that it was already October and that I needed to get an email out to the District. During that conversation I confessed, “I’m in the weeds.”
His reply, “Well, weed whack yourself out of the tall stuff.”

This got me thinking, what tools do we have at our disposal to help us escape the “tall stuff?” My incomplete, but growing tool shed has accumulated the following:

• Make a list of all the tasks that need done and prioritize them. Don’t let the length of your list intimidate you, just dig in and start chopping away at it. Inaction/ mental paralysis will only compound your problems. Start with a few small things to get the wheels turning. Soon your long list will be a short list. Celebrate that sense of accomplishment, and feel the relief of the weight lifted from you.

• Delegate and/or ask for help. Whether a supervisor or a front line employee, we can all be a little too stubborn, embarrassed or proud to ask for help. Supervisors, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, task someone else from your team and give them a chance to shine. Frontline employees, ask your supervisor for help if you’re lost or need clarification on a task. Depending on the situation, the help doesn’t have to come from your own agency or department. I don’t know how many times I’ve reached out to my fellow local directors to see how they do something, or to pick their brains. PRPS and its member base is a vast resource of experience and knowledge that should be taken advantage of.

• Be honest about the extra dishes you’re adding to your menu. Now, I’m not suggesting you tell your superiors, “No thanks!” when being tasked with a duty. I’m referring to the extras that we all add to our days, whether you’re coaching or a member of a volunteer board, those extra dishes can add up. For example, last year Tim asked if I would help write for the new website during the height of my journey through the weeds. Even though it was a relatively small commitment, I evaluated my situation and had to decline. I feared I would have submitted something subpar and not up to the standards of my fellow bloggers. To his credit, he followed up three more times before I felt that I was in a place ready to add another course to my meal. (i.e. if you’re not enjoying this read, you can blame Tim and his incredible persistence.)

• Lastly, never stop tool shopping. Anyone who’s ever worked on a project, whether it be a home improvement project, or work task, knows that having the right tool is paramount to a more successful finished product. Seminars, workshops, conferences, or a simple brainstorming session with a peer is like a weekend stop at your local hardware store for your brain.  Those are the places to pick up a new skill or sharpen an existing one.

If you ever find yourself in the weeds, it is my hope that some of these tools will assist your journey out. I’m happy to lend mine at anytime and I hope that others with deeper or more varied sheds will share their collections as well.

 

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Author: Mike Erno

Director of Parks & Recreation, Hampden Township

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