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​Learning From Things Beyond Our Control

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​Anyone who knows me well knows that I strive to be a planner across all aspects of my professional life. I like to schedule events and tasks on my calendar far in advance. In some ways, this advanced scheduling helps keep me accountable in meeting my longer-term goals, while also managing my day-to-day responsibilities.

That said, over the last several weeks, I was on call for federal jury duty. For a two-week period, each evening I was required to call into a special number to determine if it was necessary for me to report to jury duty the following day. While I made it through the two-week period without having to report in, being on-call tested my patience with my inability to plan too far in advance. However, it also helped me understand the importance of the things that you can't always plan for.

In some ways, being on call forced me to complete my work with an even greater sense of urgency than normal. I prefer to work at a steady pace to accomplish the tasks on my to-do list while also putting out the fires I am faced with each day. However, during my on-call period, not knowing if I was going to be able to make it into the office the following day gave me an additional push to get as much done as possible each day.

Sometimes, it can be tempting to procrastinate, especially if the deadlines that we have may allow for flextime. Ultimately, I think we tend to complete things in just as much time as is given to us. However, occasionally it is good to remember that unexpected events may arise that can impact our schedules. Staying in front of our work and working with a sense of urgency better positions us to deal with the unanticipated events that may come our way.

Being on call for jury duty also reminded me that sometimes things are beyond our control. While planners like me tend to think through various scenarios to understand the potential impact as we evaluate our approach to a situation, it helps to step back and recognize that some things are bigger than our plans.

I had several people ask me why I didn't try to get out of my jury duty. However, for me, this was the one time that I had been called for jury duty for which I hadn't previously planned travel or other similar activities that would have been more difficult to get out of. That said, I accepted this situation was beyond my control and sought to make the most of it. As electronics would not be allowed in jury duty, in prioritizing my daily work, I thought through not only my deadlines and commitments but also what could be done offline versus what had to be completed online.

My jury duty call also reinforced the importance of advanced communication and not just saying yes to everything that is thrown my way. When I was asked to attend meetings or events during my on-call period, I was forced to respond with a "yes, but." I communicated to the meeting/event organizers that I hoped to attend/participate; however, that was dependent on whether or not I was called in for jury duty. I also had to identify team members to serve as potential stand-ins if I could not participate. This reinforced the importance of having a team that is well-trained and prepared to step in as needed.

I still believe planning and prioritizing are important skills to help position us to achieve our goals. That said, it also is important to work with a sense of urgency, recognize the importance of flexibility, make sure we are communicating well, and make sure we have team members who are equipped to step up as needed. Given that time is one of the few things that we can't reproduce, it is important that we make the most of the time that we have. It isn't always about working extra hours, but about ensuring that the hours when we are working have maximum impact.

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