Be Duck Like

I had just moved. My life was still in boxes. Not all of the boxes had arrived. I could barely find a spoon in my kitchen. My desk was a repurposed baker’s rack as I awaited my real one. A box on the floor was standing in for my dresser. I was sleeping on an inflatable mattress. Things were completely disjointed, and it showed.

But guess what, you have to save your flusteredness for your off hours. Some call this putting on your game face. I call it being duck like. Your feet may be moving furiously under the water, but above the surface is poise and grace. But if you’re scattered, your meetings will be too. Recognizing that you’ve fallen into this pattern, regardless of the reason, is a helpful first step to getting things back on course. When I’m in this frenzied state, here are a few of my tell-tale signs.

Loss of Vocabulary

My generally articulate nature vanishes. In its place, a cadence of fillers tumble from my lips — ummm, uhhhhh, yeah, and so on. It’s dreadful to hold a conversation with me. Luckily, I hear myself. This can also take the form of people being baffled by what you’re explaining. If people with whom you generally have rapport are suddenly mystified by the words coming out of your mouth, pause and assess. Chances are it’s you who’s suddenly unclear.

Running Late

Not only are you prompt to meetings when you’re on your game, you get there three minutes early in order to be settled and ready when the meeting begins. Yet suddenly you find yourself constantly late. When life is throwing you curveballs, things take more time. And that means you’re late — a lot.

Impersonating a Ping-Pong Ball

I’m going to work on this. Now this. Ooh, that thing over there needs some attention. I’ll work on it now. Sound familiar? Ping-pong ball.

Once you’ve identified that you’re a bit scattered, what can you do to craft an air of composure when yours feels far, far away?

Space Out Your Meetings

Give yourself some breathing room. Literally. My day is often filled with back to back to back meetings. Generally I love this. Grouping my meetings together gives me a larger chunk of white space to work when I’m through talking for the day which allows me to be more productive. When I’m having a harder time gathering my thoughts, it’s imperative that there’s a buffer between my meetings. This gives me time to transition from one topic to another or to stand up and refresh my tea before drawing focus again.

Breathe

And while you’re at it, breathe. Take those extra minutes you’ve added between meetings to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Those diaphragmatic breaths will remind your nervous system that it’s okay to chill. There are no wild animals chasing you. Your emails will still be there after your next meeting. Pause. Breathe.

Script Your Agenda

On a normal day, I am able to hold my meetings with a loose outline and the bulk of my notes and topics in my head. (We can talk about whether this is a solid strategy later.) When things are operating a bit less smoothly than normal, that’s no longer a viable plan. To counteract the crazy, I compensate by carefully scripting out all of the items I need to cover in my meetings. For morning standups [brief daily meetings common in the tech world], I jot bullet points of what to mention. Longer meetings require more thought so an outline format does the trick.

Drink More Water

It’s always a good idea to stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle on your desk and sip throughout the day. Your brain will be sharper and clearer.

Let Your Team Know

They call it a team for a reason. We’ve all had moments when we’re a bit distracted. Sometimes it’s a move or a kid going off to college or a sick spouse. Your team knows the quality of work that you hold yourself to and deliver. Chances are they’ve also noticed that something is a bit off. Acknowledge it so they know you’re aware. Then let them help you pick up the slack. Ask someone else to lead a meeting you generally lead while you take notes. Talk through something that’s tripping you up to get a second opinion. Hold a working session to hold your focus. You’re all heading in the same direction, and you would do the same for them if the shoe were on the other foot.

Ideas are best when shared. When do you find yourself a bit off kilter? What behaviors serve as indicators for you? How do you get yourself back on track?