flow, learning zone, life lessons, project management

Lessons from Lino

Recently, I laid the lino in our bathroom. It was about time: the roll of lino had been lurking accusingly in the hallway for almost two years, since the end of my last maternity leave.

Laying lino is not a core skill of mine. It is also, I can assure you, not as easy as the professionals make it look on YouTube. The job is not as well done as I would have liked, but it’s done, and along the way I was reminded of a few life lessons I thought I’d share with you.

The learning zone can be very narrow, so learning to stay in it is important.
Part of my desire to lay the lino was for an interesting, but not too demanding challenge: an opportunity to learn something new, but within my capabilities as a sleep-deprived mother-of-two. This is the sweet spot of the ‘learning zone’. As the challenge mounted, and the time pressure increased (due to my teenage step-children coming back from holiday in France, wanting access to the bathroom), I found myself dipping into the panic zone more than once. It reminded me what a knife-edge the learning zone can be: sometimes there’s a very fine line between comfort zone (in this case, paying someone else to do the job) and panic zone (‘catastrophizing’ and poor decision-making here we come). It’s important to cultivate the self-awareness to realise when it’s all getting a bit much, and have tools in your armoury to move back into the learning zone: in this case, everything from taking a deep breath and getting a cup of tea, to accepting mistakes already made and pressing on regardless as calmly as possible, rather than giving in to the temptation to tear it all up and start again.

Flow is incredibly valuable and effective – and lack of it is inefficient at best. One of the most frustrating things about nap-time DIY is the fragmented time you have available. No sooner have you become absorbed in the task of wrestling a larger-than-life lino elephant into your bathroom, a little noise from next door alerts you to the impending wakefulness of a baby needing your attention. I think it’s fair to say that the task took at least three times as long in actual time – never mind calendar time – because of the need to constantly find a convenient (or not so convenient) stopping point, and then get back up to speed at the next opportunity. I’m sure the quality of the job was also impacted: if I’d done the major cutting in one block, there would have been fewer mistakes as I would have more easily remembered what I had done on the other side of the room, and also built up my skills more quickly. If you can focus on a task for longer blocks of time, you are much more likely to get a good result, more quickly!

Even a gigantic task is possible, you just need to break it into smaller chunks. Although nap-times interrupt flow, this approach to a task also forces breaking down the job into smaller blocks of work. Had I fully contemplated when I started the magnitude of the task: since laying the lino requires levelling the floor, and also means putting up the bath side, which means cutting the skirting board, and then cutting and laying the hallway carpet and joining that and the lino at the doorway, and that involves moving a bookcase and finding a new piece of carpet, etc…I might not have started. However because I just focused on the next task at hand – for example levelling the floor, and then planned each sub-task for a specific time-gap: tapping in nails, wood filler, tape and underlay, etc. – the whole project was never overwhelming.

Good enough IS good enough. Like many of you, I have a tendency to want to do things as well as I possibly can. But sometimes, it’s more important to get the job done and move on than it is to improve the quality. I keep reminding myself that one of the reasons for completing this particular project was to improve the home experience for the teenagers. For them, a further delay would be an inconvenience, and they were – and still are – perfectly happy with the quality of the job done, so why worry about the mistakes only I can see? Knowing what is good enough for any given task goes along way towards increasing your effectiveness.

Life is a learning experience. Many carers I know who are returning to work – most of them women – struggle to make their experience seem relevant, or are not taken seriously by recruiters. Often these people would add huge value to a team. It’s up to us as employers to take into account more than ‘work’ experience when hiring, and up to us as job-seekers to learn from life experience, and articulate that experience relevantly. Life throws us challenges all the time, whether we are caring for a family, working 60 hour weeks or travelling the world on a yacht – so treat them as much as possible as learning experiences, and take the time to reflect upon and learn the lessons offered.  For example, here is my previous post on lessons from maternity leave.

Do you agree with the lessons I’ve taken from this? Are there others you think are important? Or maybe you have your own DIY stories to tell – use the comments to share your thoughts.