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Interruptions and Unexpected Changes

  • Posted on May 14, 2012 at 8:00 AM

I’m not very good at developing predictable, reliable schedules for myself.  Too much of my life (and my sleep) is influx to make that a practical solution for me.  That, in itself, isn’t the problem.  I mean, it causes some problems, but not the problems I want to talk about.

Because, you see, I do make schedules for myself.  They vary from day to day and are often less dependent on time and more dependent on accomplishment.  I like to break down whole tasks into parts.  For example, a post is three steps: 1) write the post, 2) polish the post, and 3) post the post online.  I schedule each step separately, but in order, with the others.  I like to finish one step before I’m interrupted by something else, unless I have a need to multitask, in which case I still complete one task before I move on to another task in the same set, which may occur at a different point than when I complete one task in a different set.

Of course, if I have something scheduled for a specific time (or even a general time) I work on my lists of accomplishment-based tasks until they push up against the time constraint, and then I switch gears.  Ideally, I will complete any accomplishment-based tasks I’ve started before switching gears, and I’ll avoid starting new tasks if I don’t think I have time to complete them.

Most of my days are broken down in a series of tasks, separated into sets, completed as I am able, but in order.  What doesn’t get done today is moved to tomorrow or one of the upcoming days.  When the workload gets to be too much, I take time off to play—or to decompress, as the case may be, since sometimes playing is more work than I can handle.  And, lately, I’ve been scheduling in more decompression time into each day.

But, all of this is just the setup.  The point is I am busy.  There are few times in any given day when I’m not doing something.  This is a problem, because there are inevitable demands on my time that are not scheduled.  These demands are often perceived (by me) as interruptions and I don’t like interruptions.

For example, I’m in the middle of a set of business tasks and I take a bathroom break.  If the boys are home, then I am almost always accosted by one or more of the children as soon as I come upstairs.  Not only does this interfere with my ability to get to the bathroom, I perceive this as an interruption.  Interruptions make me surly and of a sour temper.  Yet, at least in theory, spending time with my kids and being available for my kids is a high priority in my life.

Dissonance ensues.

Again, my days are full of tasks.  There is little time set aside for not doing, because there are few days when I get through all of my tasks and have time left over.  It has been weeks (maybe months) since I’ve had time left over.  This is because, in part, my business is doing better, so that’s a good thing.  As our country slowly recovers (sort of) my family’s economic situation slowly improves.  All to the good.

Yet, this has also been a time of many demands on my time, some of which are unexpected and unplanned.  My mom is in the process of buying a house, so instead of coming over and doing respite as per usual, she stays home to clean and pack.  That’s fine, at least in theory, but when this happens without forewarning, when I arrive home at 8pm from a much needed shopping trip (groceries and the like, not “therapy”) to discover that the rest of my night is going to be spent performing unexpected tasks in a rush to get the boys ready for bed, that’s kind of a problem.  Not only do I have new things to add to my lists of tasks, not only do I have more incomplete tasks that were already on my lists, but I’m out of sorts with myself.  The resulting stress means I am able to do even less of my original set of tasks than I would have been able to do with only the energy spent on the new tasks.  Plus, the boys get to bed late, because I started the new series of tasks later than I should have and would have done, had I but known that I would have been doing them.

Now, it’s not that my mom’s decision to stay home and work on her own things was at all unreasonable.  It’s not even unreasonable that she, thinking that she’d be able to do both, postponed her decision until after I had gone to the store.  After all, there was no way for her to know I would be going to the store, because I didn’t even know when I was going to the store.  Again, those decisions are often based more on my rate of task-completion, not a specific time.  So, the point isn’t that my mom did this thing that set my evening off in the wrong direction, the point is that such a change sends my evening off in the wrong direction.  And the busier I get, the worse the stress effects me.

Another example is when Brandon, who is more active outside the house than his brothers, interrupts my work to ask for a ride.  Suddenly, I’m on the spot to do something that I wasn’t expecting.  Now, again, it’s not that I don’t want to give Brandon a ride.  It’s that 1) I didn’t know I was going to be called upon to give him a ride and 2) I had no warning of when I was supposed to fit this into my schedule.  Brandon is getting better at this, and he’s now letting me know at least a few hours in advance that a ride will be requested and providing me with an estimated time.  When he knows in advance, he’ll even inform me in the morning or the day before, which is very much appreciated.

But, again, the point isn’t that these interruptions and unexpected changes happen—they’re going to happen, as last week with Ben proved, even if everyone in my daily life does everything possible to prevent it from happening.  Things change.  The unexpected arises.  I will be interrupted.  And, in theory, I’m okay with that.  The point is that it has an unfortunate effect on me and that effect is getting worse and I don’t like it.  The effect, my reaction, causes dissonance (which also makes it worse), because the reaction is inconsistent with my values.

Any ideas on how to solve this that doesn’t involve getting less busy (because that’s not likely any time soon)?