Monday, June 20, 2011


Oh, the Tangled Web of Sabotage We Weave

Sabotage: Malcontent employees destroying an employer’s property or manufacturing ability; action taken by a civilian or enemy agent to hinder a nation’s war effort; act or process tending to hamper or hurt; deliberate subversion. (Based loosely on the Webster’s definition.)

I expected sabotage to be defined as deliberately thwarting one’s own goals or life purpose because that’s how I often use the word. I was surprised the first definition relates to the work world. The second definition relates to war. The third, to hurt or hamper, is closest to the definition I sought.
When I consider sabotage, however, it often relates to work. I am the employee, my own employee, yet I sabotage my personal work. War? War is the battle when I sit down to write. I wage war against my fear, war against my insecurities. Unless and until I start writing (my work), the enemy wins.
My manufacturing is hampered and hurt when I allow disruptions by life’s minutiae—fold the laundry, talk on the phone, check e-mail and Facebook, the weather, the news—my factory grinds to a halt, my war effort is interrupted, and more life passes me by. I don’t call it deliberate subversion; but I should because when I fritter away my energy on the Internet, share oh-so-compelling family drama via the telephone, e-mail, or status updates, my subversion might as well be deliberate.
I sometimes sabotage myself in more dramatic ways. My recent full-blown sabotage began May 18. While perusing various blogs, I stumbled on one by Scott Young: “The Really Simple Way to Get Things Done” ( I have trouble getting things done. I write lists, I set goals (often unattainable), I stumble, I fall, I sabotage.
May 18 was exactly 12 days before the first of several houseguests would arrive to celebrate my son’s graduation. On June 4, 15 family members would join us. I wasn’t certain how many would bunk here, but I planned on about ten. On May 18, I was overwhelmed. I had a lot to do.
“The Really Simple Way to Get Things Done” seemed like a Godsend—it is and likely would have been had I not sabotaged everything. I had 12 days to prepare for company and a party. I also had to work full-time. However, I figured I had a simple way to handle everything—and more. I committed to the simple way for a month, certain that in 30 days, I would have an entirely new life.
The heart of the plan is having a weekly set of goals. My goals for my first week were the following:
1.   Weed whack/trim the entire yard.
2.   Organize stacks of papers on my filing cabinet (about two months’ worth).
3.   Begin purging files in desk and inside filing cabinet.
4.   Exercise every day.
5.   Write and publish seven blogs.
6.   Organize the linen closet.
7.   Sew new covers for the patio chair cushions.
8.   Clean the garage; put boxes in the attack and pack up yard sale items.
9.   Cook dinner at least five nights.
     10.  Hang new watercolors.
     11.  Plan menus for guests and the party.
My work goals included proofreading ten chapters of several book projects, copyediting a book, and proofreading a 600+ page book, which meant at least 50 hours of work. The work and home goals were in addition to my daily and weekly routines. I signed on for much more than any normal person, but I would get everything done because I had the really simple way.
I was so confident that I e-mailed the blog’s author to tell him about my 30-day commitment to his plan. I would give him weekly updates. (I contacted him once to tell him about an important paper I found during the garage purge, but haven’t since because I’m too embarrassed.)
At the end of week one, my spirits began to lag. I was exhausted from 10-hour workdays and my dervish efforts to do everything else. The Sunday before company arrived, I started sewing the chair covers. Five minutes later, my sewing machine broke. I crossed one thing off my list.
June 1, I drove 90 miles to the Orlando airport to pick up my daughter and her boyfriend. Near that date, the Domino Project sent me an e-mail about a Ralph Waldo Emerson writing project ( Signers up committed to daily writing and posting from an e-mailed prompt for the next 30 days. Simple? Of course! I signed up for that, too.
When the rest of my guests arrived, I had trimmed the entire yard, cleared off the filing cabinet and purged a few folders. The garage was navigable, but not clean. The pictures were hung up, but no boxes were in the attic. The linen closet was a mess. I hadn’t had dinner in four days. I did have a meal plan and grocery list. I bailed on exercise and writing. I was behind on my work and frazzled. I vacuumed, cleaned the bathrooms, and washed bed linens. The day before graduation, I was on a ladder in the kitchen cleaning the light fixture. “This is so wrong,” I said to myself and climbed down.
Early on party day, my guests were at the beach or shopping. Everyone else would arrive at 3 p.m. Everything was done, except food preparation, kitchen clean-up, and tidying the bathrooms and the patio. My sewing machine was repaired, so at 11:30, I sat down to sew the cushion covers. I checked the clock and calculated hours left. “This is crazy!” I said aloud. I put away the sewing.
The party was great, the food delicious, and everyone left full and happy. However, in the back of my mind, I was anxious for Sunday afternoon when the house emptied, because I was behind on work and had missed a deadline. Sunday at 4 p.m., I was at my desk before the last car left the driveway. I worked until 10 p.m., got up at 6 a.m. Monday and completed the project. I worked on other projects the rest of the day. Two guests returned from a trip to the West Coast Monday evening, and my other daughter and her boyfriend came for a late-evening visit.
Tuesday afternoon, I again drove to the Orlando airport. Once home, I continued working furiously to meet deadlines. The Simple Way to Get Things Done was forgotten. I was slogging through what I hadn’t done. The 30-day writing project? Another commitment gone awry.
Thursday evening I was in bed, shaking with chills. Friday I ignored my symptoms even though I ached all over and froze in the air-conditioned truck while I house-hunted with my sister. Friday evening, I was flat on my back with a fever. No more sabotage, no more lists, no more exercise. No simple way to get anything done, because all I was going to do was lie in bed and alternately shiver, sweat, and ache.
Four days later, I was back at my desk, more behind than ever, but a bit more aware. I sabotage my life. I take on too much. I want to get more done. I have goals. I have two houses. I have bills. I have a job. But I feel even guiltier when I sabotage my own efforts. It’s time for a realistic look at my life, at what I can do, what I want to do, and what I will do. Time for a look at how I sabotage all of the above. When I take that look, I will be realistic about every aspect of my life. I am sorely tempted to pick up Scott Young’s Simple Way… and try again, because it is a great way to get things done. However, in a week I leave for New England, where I must ready a house for lease or sale. This is not the time to finish sewing the pillow covers, organize the linen closet, or purge the garage. I must get several things done before I leave—sewing, organizing, and purging are not among them. Nor do I have time for sabotage—my own especially.
When I return from New England, I will revisit how to get things done and I will revisit the simple way. I will check for sabotage before I begin and I will get more done. I will relieve myself of guilt. I will feel less like a failure. I will be more relaxed. Maybe I can even stay well.

P.S. I took a break for a few minutes and stepped away from my writing. As I got some ice for my drink, I pondered prying the melted ice away from the freezer edge. I was about to fetch some hot water and spray the jammed mess when the word “Sabotage” flashed in front of my eyes. I closed the freezer and walked back to the computer.

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