What to Do When Someone Else’s Disorganization Creates Your Chaos

I’m a planner; it’s the only way that I can accomplish all my goals without burning out or going a little crazy.  So what do you do when an authority figure gives you wrong information – but then YOU have to change your entire schedule in order to deal with the resulting chaos?  It changes all your priorities by turning important things into important AND urgent crises (thanks, Stephen Covey for these insights).

Well, that’s what happened to me when I was asked to teach a university course.  I was told the class had a standardized curriculum – but there were no quizzes, tests or reports assigned.  Being a planner, I was pulling together my teacher’s guide for the class 3 weeks before it started and noticed these omissions.  I notified the person in charge and was told that everything would be posted a few days before the class start.  Guess what?  They weren’t.

So I was now in a situation where class had started and neither the 25 adult learners nor I knew what the assignments and due dates would be for the course.  Oh, and by the way, there was no repository of questions or assignments from which I could quickly pull the new curriculum.  Needless to say, everything else went on the back burner and I had to focus exclusively on developing the entire course curriculum from scratch as quickly as possible.

So much for managing my schedule to avoid burnout.

Do these types of things happen in business?  Sure, they do.  Are they fair to the person who must scramble to complete a project as the result of someone else’s disorganization?  No, they aren’t.  My question is:  what can be done about it?  Here’s my checklist to prevent these crises from happening in the future.

#1:  Keep your priorities.  Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, I looked at which projects were most critical and had the closest due dates.  The other things were rescheduled.  I didn’t want one crisis to snowball into a week full of crises (luckily, it didn’t).

#2:  Check with at least 2 authority figures if something is missing or feels wrong.  Don’t rely on just one answer.  Of course, this can make the original person whom you ask somewhat miffed, but you don’t want to be in a situation that causes additional stress to either you or the people who are depending on you.

#3:  Be a pest.  This follows the previous point – keep asking if your instincts tell you that the answer is wrong.

#4:  Be honest with the people who are depending on you.  I notified my students immediately about the confusion and asked for their patience.  Of course, I also gave them additional time to complete the assignments.  The result was very positive and had somewhat of a bonding effect on a new class.

#5:  Be honest with the people who will be the victims of the trickle down effect resulting from the drain on your time.  Since I’m teaching more than one class, I notified my other students that I would be running behind on correcting their assignments.  Again, the result was positive.  Silence can be deadly.

#6:  Use more than one way to contact the people who are depending on you.  Not only did I post announcements, but I also emailed the entire class to keep them apprised of the progress.  (It took 2 solid weeks to pull together the curriculum.)

#7:  Give at least a portion of the total project to the people who are depending on you – then work diligently to finish the balance as soon as possible.  In this way, my students were able to work on the first few weeks’ assignments and I had a little breathing room to develop the rest of them.

#8:  Take a break.  While I put in a lot of extra, unplanned hours to complete the curriculum, I didn’t kill myself by attempting an all-nighter.  (I can’t do them anymore because I’m a zombie for a few days after and can’t accomplish anything!)  Continuing to push when you’re exhausted creates a shoddy result – which, if you genuinely care about what you do, means you’re going to spend more time re-doing it.

#9:  Don’t get angry.  Concentrate on the light at the end of the tunnel – then celebrate when you’re done.  Being angry just causes more stress and anxiety and is counterproductive.

#10:  Learn the lesson.  Some organizations are notoriously disorganized, while some may have just suffered a temporary glitch.  Figure out which one applies – then keep this in mind for future projects.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

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