Yesterday my boss assigned me a project and told me that I needed to "stay focused" on it. While I often roll my eyes at unsolicited advice (particularly from management) this suggestion highlighted something I've been thinking of for a while.
I work hard (which is why suggestions on how to do my job irritate me) but I don't always "work smart." As far as focusing goes, I'm very good at concentrating intensely on whatever is in front of me--whether it's a client that can't log into our vault to see his/her statements, cleaning the mildew off of my shower curtain, reading my book on the T or editing a paper for school. What I'm not so good at is dealing with anything with a due date later than next Thursday.
Much like my tendency to panic, while I'm sure most of this is innate, it has probably been exacerbated by working in a small business environment since college. Small businesses are lucky if they can manage strategic planning instead of just moving from crisis to crisis. And while it's nice to know that even if I'm freaking out I can perform well, in order to succeed as a human it would be helpful to have some long term planning skills.
My own inability to think beyond next Thursday is also, I suspect, partly due to my fear of failure. On the whole, my inability to deal with long term projects has been a problem. When I would think of applying to grad schools or learning to drive any time in the past 12 years, the project always seemed too big or too complicated. So for a long time I couldn't manage anything more complicated that "do the laundry" or "upgrade the server and support the result." These are both necessary things, but as a grown up, I should be able to do more than react, play "what could possibly go wrong?" and think beyond nest week. While I will always be best in the here and now, I've come up with ways of dealing with larger endeavors.
No one was more surprised than I was when I actually got into an MBA program--not because I'm stupid, but because it was the culmination of a long process that was entirely self-motivated. No mentor, manager or teacher was checking in with me--I had to make myself jump through all of the hoops. I had friends who helped me (and very helpful they were!) but I had to make myself go. I succeeded by 1) frightening myself into believing I needed to get a graduate degree and 2) dividing the project into smaller bits (parts that didn't involve thinking beyond next Thursday.) First there was the GMAT project, then there was the recommendations project, then there was the essays project (this last involved three friends sitting on me while I wrote them in Gulu Gulu and one of the three editing what I'd written.)
Now, a year and a half later I have the Driver's Licence/Car project. There is a car sitting in my parents' drive way. It is my sister's former car. It's her former car because after having her third kid she needed to upgrade to a minivan (or start making her husband ride in the trunk.) The longer the car sits in my parents' driveway, the more likely it is to become a Car Shaped Object, as opposed to a Car. Since moving out of Cambridge, I've been meaning to get my license, but it's always seemed like too much hassle to learn to drive (and oh, by the way I have a project due for work/school next week.) So this Summer the only classes I'm taking are driving classes. Is learning to drive still a big scary project? Yeah, kinda. Do I have a plan for it? Yes I do and it's not anything that I need to think farther than next Thursday to execute.