I am recalling what David Allen (www.davidco.com) has said on this subject, and he makes a very important distinction between a task and a project. We often make the mistake of not agreeing enough to tasks, which often improve our standing in the world cheaply, and agreeing too quickly to projects, which can turn into a black hole.
A task is something you can tell yourself to do, and you can just do it. You can start and stop at will. It is uncomplicated. It is often well received by others, and is a nurturing thing to do. It helps improve the energy between you and others with fairly little effort.
A project is simply two or more tasks, yet that is what makes it complicated.
And this distinction is easy to miss. Take this morning. My 5 yo Josie asked me this morning if she could play with some stuff she had next to her car seat as we set out for day care. Her younger sister Clara Rose (4yo) doesn’t have any ‘stuff’ so I tell Josie that she has to share and that I don’t want it to turn into arguing. She agrees and I let her have the stuff , which consists of a small stick and a deflated balloon.
So reader, what did I agree to – a task or a project? I actually had these nutty expectation that I wouldn’t have to do anything – that it wasn’t even a task for me . Actually , I had agreed to a project! Josie began to ‘make something for Mommy’ – (a project) . She attaches the balloon to the stick and wants me to take it and put in my lunchbox and so she can give it to Mommy later. I remind her that she had to share with Clara Rose. She does, but Clara Rose begins to mess with it and the balloon comes off and then she puts a hole in the balloon trying to put it back on. Josie gets angry at her and I just get angry and I grab the balloon and stick and yell at them. I totally overreact. They are both upset. Clara Rose is crying quietly and Josie is just angry and giving me the evil eye.
I can comfort Clara Rose when I say goodbye at day care and she is responsive but Josie has a harder time. She gives me the two kisses that are part of our ritual but she rushes them and doesn’t want a hug. She walks off and I realize I have been dismissed. She has never done this so I feel pretty bad.
So what was my mistake? Not seeing that I had agreed to a project. Not taking into account what tasks, time, energy, and emotion would be involved.
Being with kids that age is always a project – truth be told. It is a loving project, one I am grateful for, but never less than a project, which is well worth remembering to avoid sad mornings.