I work from home which comes with a lot of additional responsibilities when a child becomes sick or there is inclement weather. I, personally, feel productive during these days, but that’s not the story I’m here to tell. Remember when you had off school as a kid? By noon, every toy, video game, or book had completely lost its value. When consecutive days off of school became chained together, that feeling starts much earlier in the day.
I recently became tasked with this challenge. I had a full day of work ahead of me, and two children home from school with a snow day. I was able to get an early jump on my work, but when 8:00 AM struck the questions about the day’s “activities” started rolling in. My initial reaction was to feel slightly overwhelmed; I didn’t want to plan activities with the kids that I couldn’t deliver on. I had items that absolutely needed to be accomplished by the end of the day. Additionally, I receive random phone calls or emails that require immediate responses and are unpredictable. You know how it goes. So, how do I ensure a smooth day? One where I get done what I need to and the kids don’t wish they hadn’t had a snow day at all?
We gathered in the living room with sticky notes and sharpies. On individual sticky notes, we wrote down anything we thought of that we might want to do or accomplish during this day. So items we had were:
- Code Review – Matt
- Unit Test the Shipping Calculator
- Make Slime
- Cyber School – Science
- Cyber School – Math
- Cyber School – ELA
- Play Outside
- Play Rocket League
- Write a Blog About Today
To my surprise, there were thirty or forty things we had come up with. We decided to just plan our morning knowing that things would change. As a way to keep an open line of communication, we agreed to meet every hour on the hour to see how we were doing and to change our plan. As new items emerged, we would write them down and set them aside for what we agreed to be our next planning meeting at lunch.
At lunch, we gathered around the board and discovered that some of the items we planned earlier were no longer relevant. Playing outside, for instance, became irrelevant around 10:00 AM as the snow had turned to ice. We had others emerge as the result of discoveries in the morning: play Zelda for which we had found a Nintendo gift card to purchase it.
At the end of the day, we all felt accomplished. Many sticky notes were moved to the “done” column we had created. It was so well received that we decided to have another planning session at dinner after my wife got home from work.
What Can We Take Away From This Snow Day?
In life, situations change and plans emerge. Pairing with my kids, we collectively created and owned the process. As new items emerged or existing items became irrelevant, we changed our approach. We weren’t married to a plan, but we were married to having a great snow day.
I think about how that day might have gone if we tried to plan the day in its entirety, not had a plan at all, or if I had created the plan and given it to my kids without their input. Had we been bound to that plan, the kids might have frozen in the ice or I would’ve missed out on an important meeting with a customer that crept up in the afternoon. Our day, quite frankly, would have been miserable.
Instead, we had an awesome day that was both productive and fun. We inspected, adapted, and were transparent about the day. We were iterative in our approach and set out as a team to work together. The day was a complete success even though we had some bumps in the road.
When coping with complexity, why are we still insistent upon creating and being constrained to a long-term plan? Why are we dictating processes and outcomes when we don’t know what we don’t know? Why do some projects feel like failed snow days?