When you drop the ball at work

I’m sure you’ve had a bad day or a bad week at work. I’m not talking about those times when somebody undermines your ideas, or when your performance evaluation is not what you expected, or when you had to attend too many useless meetings.

I’m talking about those times when you drop the ball.

When there’s just too many complex things or projects to work on, and you fail to make progress.

When there’s just so much to do that when you sit down to work you freeze and don’t know where to start.

When things you committed to do end up not getting done, and you let people down.

You are not alone

When you drop the ball, you may feel like you’re the only person out there struggling with delivering on what you promised. If you work in an environment that is full of smart, high-achieving people, you may feel… inadequate. Or even a bit of a fake, an impostor.

Let me tell you this: you are not alone.

Though I talk a lot about productivity, about managing your life, delivering on your promises, and taking things to the next level, I’ll admit that I still have THE HARDEST time getting things done.

I’m an idea guy. I love brainstorming solutions. I love developing a vision. I love coming up with projects and organizing them in priority.

But when it comes to actually diving into each idea to see them to completion, I struggle.

But you must be thinking: didn’t Cesar write a whole book on how to turn my ideas into reality, delivering on my promises, and getting things done? Isn’t he some sort of expert on this?


The reason I wrote the book, and also why I podcast about project management is that inside, I’m a mess. I wrote the book for myself, after finding the discipline of project management and seeing how much it helped me make stuff happen. Before project management, I just had ideas. After I learned project management, I started turning them into reality and actually achieving something in my life.

But while tools and techniques may assist you, if you learn to rely too much on them, it becomes a problem. Tools and techniques fail. They break. Sometimes they don’t apply perfectly to the problem at hand. And when they fail you, things fall apart.

Get back on track

When that happens, here’s what I use to get out of the rut:

  1. Remember the system. If you don’t have a productivity system, I recommend you adopt one. In my case, I have been using GTD (Getting Things Done) for years now, and it’s a good one. But even great systems, when not managed well, will fail. So remember your system, review all your projects, and get all your commitments out of your head and into your system.
  2. Take it one week and one day at a time. Every week will present itself with things that unarguably must get done. Every day will present tasks and milestones that must be reached. Start your week and every day by reviewing your projects and making a short list of 3-4 things that must absolutely get done.
  3. Put things in your calendar. As David Allen recommends in GTD, the calendar is supposed to be only for items that MUST happen at a specific time and date. I, however, like to block time in my calendar to devote to specific tasks, even if they don’t have to be done say, by 2pm on Tuesday. That’s sometimes the only way to make time for working on a specific outcome.
  4. Review your work halfway through the day and on Wednesday. Are you making the progress you want to be making? Are you halfway done with what you set out to do today and this week?
  5. Remove distractions. Are you easily distracted by social media? Remove the apps from your phone. Are you easily distracted by sports? Block the website from your browser. I have found that discipline is 80% removing the near occasion of sloth, and only 20% being firm in your intention to work hard.
  6. Continue to build your work ethic. Read books on how to do better work, manage yourself, get things done. Get inspired by coworkers and mentors who seem to achieve a lot and yet maintain peace of mind. Continue to try to better yourself.

I’m writing this as I emerge from a challenging week at work in which I dropped a number of balls and let some people down.

Here’s to a great week that starts today. I am making a commitment to do better. How about you?

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