Vapor Lock


I sat in front of my work laptop for at least a couple of hours unable to focus on any single task. My heart was pounding, my mind was wandering in a thousand different directions, I didn’t have a headache but I felt as if I was to explode any second all while my Outlook kept getting stuffed with “Missing this” “Wrong that” e-mails.

I got up and went for a walk during which I sent an emergency text message to my mentor describing what’s been going on.

“Call you tonight” read the text message back.

I somehow managed to get something, anything done that day. But it was later that day that I heard the prognosis.

“Vapor lock”, said my mentors’ voice on the line, “welcome to the big league”.

My mentor went on to explain this phenomenon in which you basically are stretched too thin among too many topics and lose the space to breathe. It’s both the success and a curse of taking on too many topics usually acquired by proving yourself at work.
I consider myself a go-getter with a GSD (get shit done) attitude. I’m also learning my current global organization but having been there over a year I’d like to think that I’ve got some processes figured out by now.

I was mistaken.

Yes, I’ve closed several topics by now, but these opened the doors to more topics elsewhere in the organization. Multiply the scopes of global projects by many projects and quotations and I found myself sitting in front of a laptop full of issues unable to clearly ponder any single one.

I wonder now that I write this if anyone from work is reading and if this sort of a post might land me in hot managerial water. But this story has a good ending so read on before summoning me to the HR office.

“Grind. Advertise. Manage expectations.”

There’s no silver bullet to all that goes on in my inbox at the time of this writing, nor was there a silver bullet during my vapor lock. But what Grind, Advertise, Manage expectations mean is this:

Get your ass to work. Nothing is gonna make this work go away but a good old fashion grind. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said:
“There are no shortcuts—everything is reps, reps, reps.”

“Hey boss, just to let you know, I’m neck deep in two of these other projects with stress level running high, maybe I could sit this next one out?” No complaining, but a subtle info update to your superiors or those controlling your workflow to let them know what you’re up to. Sometimes they just don’t know how much is on your plate.

Manage expectations
Stay clear of “I need this now!” sort of discussions. Collect facts. Avoid emotions. State your current position, your workload, the possible outcomes, and assume a result that is actually feasible. Align all your stakeholders with one common view. No imaginary dates. No fantasy expectations. No unnecessary “But I thought…” conversations.

I used all three of the above to get through the workload that was bogging me down. It wasn’t all peaches at first, but with some prioritization, I was able to get past the initial stuckness of it all and get on with my work.

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