Discover more from B2B Wins by Steve Zakur
B2B Wins #21: 5 Tips for Dealing with Life's Black Holes
A framework for dealing with a crisis
When life gets busy, busy as in a few standard deviations beyond the norm, it’s impossible to maintain order. My once-disciplined publication schedule for this newsletter came off the rails a few weeks ago. I missed two blog posts. This one is late, or missed, depending on your perspective. The first time it was unintentional. I just couldn’t get things done. Last week, I deprioritized it. Same this week.
In newsletter publishing routine is everything. Primarily because of how Google views the world. You won’t find my content unless Google finds it credible. Apparently, routine is an important factor in Google’s ranking algorithm.
Routine is also important because I want to connect our brains—yours and mine—regularly. If we’re not talking—or if at least one of us isn’t talking—then ideas aren’t percolating. I’m here for the mental coffee. I hope you are too.
The current black hole appeared because of a pretty radical change in my life. The key to getting through a period in which life, whether it’s personal or professional, is upside down is pretty simple. Make the tough calls on what gets done and what doesn’t. Don’t leave it to chance. Decide.
1. So what happened? Why the Black Hole?
On February 4th, my younger son moved out of our home. He graduated from college and has a real job and an apartment. Our nest is empty. Ann and I once again put selling the homestead up for discussion. We are ready for a new adventure.
Selling a house you’ve lived in for twenty years is a challenge. Prepping it and selling it in 30 days is borderline insane. But our agent advised that in real estate timing is everything and we wanted to hit the market right in the sweet spot. If we could have the house on the market by March 1, she believed we could intercept demand that was accelerating beyond inventory growth.
She knows her trade. The house was ready on the 1st. By the 5th forty people had seen the house and we accepted one of several offers. Fifteen days later we have a firm closing date less than a month away. Equal parts exciting and terrifying. One offsetting factor is we already have a landing spot in New Hampshire.
Whether you’re selling a home, just had a baby, or just got that big promotion, at some point in time you’re going to find yourself falling into an all-consuming vortex on which you can exert little influence. The longer you wait to respond, the harder it’s going to be to escape the relentless pull. How you respond to the situation will make all the difference in your ability to find a way through.
2. How to deal with a Black Hole
As the gravitational forces of the real estate sales process sucked us in we both had to carve time from everything else on our plate. The biggest challenge was how to manage our professional lives. As a consultant, I have more flexibility than Ann though as an executive she also can set some of her own priorities. That was very helpful. We’re also very good at managing crises because we share a similar mindset.
Here are the cliff notes on how that works.
Face reality—the first step on the journey is admitting that you’re going through a crisis. You have more work than resources. You lack the skills to do what you’ve committed to doing. A problem has emerged that will extend a project timeline. Regardless, of what shape the black hole takes the first step in the process is admitting that it’s a problem that needs to be urgently addressed. As soon as we decided to put the house up for sale we knew the timeline was going to require more work than we could do given current commitments. That was a huge red flag.
Ruthless Prioritization—Everything may seem equally important. It isn’t. First, you need to challenge your assumptions. What are you assuming about the work that is not really a constraint? Can you remove constraints in another way? For example, I stopped seeking additional work. While reducing business development may bite me in the long term, right now that’s about 40% of my daily hours. That’s a lot of found time. Another example is how we dealt with prepping the house for sale. We had to declutter the place. Where will all that furniture and tchotchke go? There’s not enough time to sell it which is the normal process. So, we now have a very large rented storage space that allowed us to defer that activity. The furniture sale was a constraint that had alternatives. Sometimes there’s no easy way, something has to slip. You have to be ruthless in your assessment. I had to tell one of my clients that instead of doing three things next week I could do two things. We came to an agreement on the speed of the project. I’ve also made a decision about this newsletter. More on that in a moment.
Communicate—Setting and resetting expectations across the team is important. It helps to align resources. You get additional brains working on solutions. You’re all pulling in the same direction. Communication can’t be done enough. Messages can’t be repeated often enough. Multiple channels have to be used to ensure nobody misses a message. During the past thirty days, we’ve had an open text chat with everyone involved in the deal, we’ve had regular phone calls for updates, issues, and actions, and we’ve repeated key messages again and again. Everyone is on the same page.
Execute—Once you’re able to balance your resources and commitments you have to get to it. This is where feedback loops are critical. No plan survives first contact. So, when an issue emerges go back to the top of this list. Face it. Prioritize. Communicate. Execute. This process becomes a way to see you through dark times. It increases the likelihood that you’ll emerge on the other side.
Maintain mental and physical health—You’re highly committed to the new plan. Recognize that this is a stressful time. My biggest challenge is energy levels. Stress saps strength. So does lots of physical work. Ann is primarily responsible for the launch. I’m responsible for the landing. I’ve been spending a lot of time driving back and forth. Fixing stuff. Transporting stuff. Digging holes. Doing carpentry. And also working. She’s doing the same. We haven’t been as diligent about dog walks, workouts, and recreating. But we recognize this and are doing our best to keep at it. One big mental health thing for us is dinners out and cocktails. Find the thing that helps buoy you in tough times and build that into your schedule.
I’m not doing any of this 100%. But I am thinking about them often. We’re working the process and expect that on April 13th we’ll be sitting by the fire in New Hampshire enjoying the last of winter and preparing for blackfly season.
Also, as part of my ruthless prioritization, I’m going to shift my newsletter publishing schedule. I’m going to switch to bi-weekly for the next few months. First and third weeks of the month. Thank you for your continued support.