I’m not going to assume we have a common understanding of chaos. So here goes.
Chaos Defined: Confusion and disorder with an intensity that compounds existing challenges.
Is that close to your understanding?
Chaos = Fuel, when Ignited, has the Potential to Spread Like Wildfire
I like to think of chaos as a catalyst that fuels a host of undesirable outcomes such as anarchy, mass hysteria, and social upheaval at the societal level.
At the individual level this chaos could present itself as 8,756 unopened emails in someone’s inbox with 10,000 others where unanswered requests reside amidst important attachments, routine reminders, past due special events and expired 50% off discounts; brilliant work hidden in Word documents haphazardly saved across multiple devices including external hard drives, flash drives, individual laptop and office desktop where some files are duplicated and most have multiple versions with the latest impossible to discover; long forgotten commitments months overdue; overdrawn checking accounts with undeposited checks lost in a stack of unpaid bills amidst mounds of disorganized paper, journals, books, junk mails, dare I say hoarding.
In the popular vernacular: when chaos remains unchecked long enough, “all hell breaks loose.”
When you think of chaos as the detonator for this kind of mayhem, logic suggests we need to bottle that fuel and bury it!
Chaos = Creativity’s Midwife Attending the Birth of all Things New & Wonderful
But experience and common sense remind you that vanquishing chaos would be impossible. Chaos, after all, is also inevitable, maybe even necessary. Chaos not only is a powerful catalyst for the undesirable, but also a catalyst for creativity, flexibility, and growth. What?
Order and clarity are the opposite of chaos. But meticulous organization and certainty are possible only where familiar and mastered experiences abound. And our ability to operate exclusively and consistently with controlled variables and known circumstances is neither sustainable nor desirable. After all, chaos surfaces where change, new challenges, and all things unknown abound—essentially everywhere!
Neither Kill nor Ignore Chaos: Tame it Instead!
Consequently, the inevitability of chaos, particularly in the presence of an ever-changing landscape, demands that chaos be managed or controlled. I embrace the term, “tamed!” In fact, I’m all about taming chaos! TAME the Chaos is my signature coaching program with a corresponding digital course.
Some of my most interesting conversations with strangers unfold when I tell them I’m a “chaos tamer.” Little explanation is needed since chaos is a common human experience.
Taming respects chaos as a viable force to spark creativity, discovery, and expansion, but ensures that it’s not viable enough to evoke havoc.
Chaos Spectrum: Visual Model
Picture the chaos spectrum ranging from Low to High—On the Low End: order & clarity. High End: disorder & confusion. The Low End is characterized by predictability, repetition, and boredom. By contrast, on the High End reigns mayhem, ruin, and hopelessness. The “Chaos-Tamed Zone” is found between these extremes. In the “Chaos-Tamed Zone,” you’ll experience accomplishment, creativity, productivity, excitement, and joy.
Who Needs Chaos Taming Skills the Most?
Taming chaos, a continuous, dynamic process, is essential when you’re making lasting contributions by researching, educating, creating, reimagining healthcare services, as well as designing systems, businesses, buildings, social structures, and legal systems, and parenting autonomous human beings.
Chaos Thrives HERE!
Taming chaos is essential where chaos thrives, and these four areas are among chaos’ favorite!
- Chaos thrives in a flexible schedule!
- Chaos thrives in a multi-faceted profession!
- Chaos thrives where challenge and potential are great!
- Chaos thrives where documentation and communication are vital!
Do at least three of the four areas align with your life and career?
Notice more specifically how chaos thrives in all four areas in say higher education, the professional arena I know well after spending 25 years there.
1. Why Chaos thrives in a flexible schedule!
THE APPEAL: You love your flexible schedule! Doubtless, it was part of the appeal of entering the profession. Flexibility creates options and the potential for freedom to design the career and life you love. Flexibility puts you in control of your time, one of your most valuable assets.
CAUTION: But options also create decisions, which can create confusion (i.e. chaos). The potential for embracing too many options is great! Plus, controlling your time is great, if you exercise that control effectively.
Higher Education Examples of Chaos in a Flexible Schedule: Consider the potential for confusion (i.e. chaos) with so many options:
- Daily Options: When to start work, stop work, take breaks, run errands, check email, eat, scroll through your newsfeed and social media, accommodate others?
- Semester/Teaching Term Options: When to lean in to research, teaching, and service? How to manage prepping, catching-up and being away at a conference? How to carve out adequate time for long-term projects amidst daily must-dos?
- Between Teaching Terms Options: How to balance breaks with work? How much to work? What to work on?
- Most Challenging Options of All: Which projects and opportunities to embrace and which to reject? How many projects and opportunities to embrace and which to reject? When to do which kind of work?
2. Why Chaos thrives in a multi-faceted profession!
THE APPEAL: Variety makes your work fun and rewarding. Variety expands your potential for accomplishment and contribution. Variety allows for choice and the opportunity to focus narrowly and/or broadly. Variety enables you to dig deep in details, collaborate with others on big projects, always be learning new things, and delegate when needed. Bonus, when one area isn’t thriving, you still have other areas of your career to deliver much-needed satisfaction.
CAUTION: Yet, the potential for chaos directly correlates to the number of roles you fill and facets of responsibility you hold.
Higher Education Examples of Chaos amidst Multi-faceted Roles: Consider the potential for excess & confusion (i.e. chaos):
- Teaching: Number of courses, level of courses—core curriculum, required, majors, graduate level, theses, dissertations; number of sections; number of students in those courses; varied component parts to preparing, delivering, and assessing effecting teaching–syllabus prep, content prep for multiple topics in multiple courses, teaching methods prep, assignment prep, test prep, grading, and ongoing feedback; perhaps even teaching assistants to train and mentor.
- Service: Number of committees, multiple layers of units—department, division, college, school, collaborative, university; multiple audiences—students, colleagues, local unit, professional organizations & professional journals at the state level, national & international level; multiple levels of responsibility—member, evaluator, chair, director, editor, president; multiple terms of service—one hour to multiple decades and all lengths in between.
- Scholarship: Number and variety of projects—conferences, poster sessions, articles, reviews, chapters, books, grants proposed, grants received, clinical practice, installations, shows, readings, public presentations, archives; depth of the project; stages of the projects; number of collaborators; components and phases of the projects—archival research, literature review, interviews, lab time, data analysis, writing, revising, collaborating.
- Administration and leadership: Number of admin & leadership roles; level of leadership in the organization; number of direct reports; complexity of the mission to implement; scope of the management challenge; variety and number of new IT and support systems to learn; level of coordination and collaboration needed; plethora of skills and patience needed to manage people/personnel challenges.
3. Why Chaos thrives where challenge and potential are great!
THE APPEAL: You love the thrill of victory, and you’ve experienced it! You may have earned a masters or doctoral degree in your field. You may be in upper management in your company or maybe you’re an entrepreneur. No matter your career choice, you’re no stranger to challenge—the fear it evokes and the thrill it delivers.
CAUTION: After each accomplishment, a new challenge awaits. And new challenges evoke doubt, uncertainty, anxiety, and simply confusion amidst all the new stuff you haven’t yet mastered.
Higher Education Examples of Chaos Around Challenge and Potential: Consider the potential for confusion & disorder (i.e. chaos):
- Confusion about the emerging component parts of a new research project or admin responsibility leads to disorganization and confusion. You have great ideas but struggle to bring them to life.
- Cluttered and confused thoughts that generate feelings of frustration and doubt.
- Scope of the challenging research project or new admin responsibility creates long-term unfinished projects that may sit without attention, confusion emerges, reengaging takes time you don’t have, confusion & uncertainty grow.
- Uncertainty and confusion of it all leads to resistance and procrastination.
- Unfinished and neglected projects fuel doubt & diminish confidence, perhaps generating stress & dissatisfaction.
- To ease the stress & dissatisfaction, you seek distractions, short-term pleasures, quick wins in other areas of work and life.
4. Why Chaos thrives where documentation and communication are vital!
THE APPEAL: You are an expert! Likely your expertise expands to many areas. You have valuable contributions to make in many realms—local, national, global. You’re required to manage up and down as well as collaborate with peers. You share your valuable insights to varied audiences and levels of complexity. Of course, documentation and communication are vital.
CAUTION: Yet, the potential for chaos directly correlates with the complexity of the documentation you manage and the frequency, number, and variety of audiences you communicate with.
Higher Education Examples of Chaos Around Documentation and Communication: Consider some potential confusion & disorganization (i.e. chaos):
- Archived and current paper files fill your drawer then begin to litter your desk, shelves, and office floor. Where to keep them? Which to save?
- Digital files perhaps crowd your computer desktop so you can quickly access them.
- Layers and layers of digital folders for teaching, scholarship, and committee work yet specific files can’t be found with ease. Multiple versions of files saved haphazardly across multiple devices.
- Do you rely on your institution’s LMS (Learning Management Software) to store teaching materials and grades, or do you piece together your own system with inevitable duplication?
- Email hell, either feeling the pull to keep up by constantly checking it or overwhelmed with messages from students, colleagues, and stakeholders that never stop arriving and cluttering the inbox.
Power of a Workflow System in Taming Chaos!
Remember chaos is ubiquitous, part of 21st century daily life. Consider it a force for destruction and construction that needs taming!
To tame chaos, you need a simple, but powerful workflow system. One that is comprehensive enough to deal with the challenges of a 21st-century career in higher education but that’s not time-consuming to create, complicated to maintain, or inconsistent with your work style.
A workflow system is invaluable when it also empowers you with control, energy, and focus so you can make your lasting contributions while experiencing greater contentment and joy in your professional and personal life.
Personal Experience with a Workflow System that Works!
For many years, I alternated between succumbing to and trying to strangle the chaos that showed up in my life. From that struggle and the research I uncovered to overcome it, I developed a workflow system for taming my chaos. With this workflow system, I’ve eased my stress, become more present in the moment, tapped into more of my creativity, expanded my courage, and actually became more productive! I now teach this workflow system to my clients and have developed a digital course that both provides and teaches the framework of this workflow management system.
Embrace Chaos Taming for Yourself!
In September I’m making this digital course, TAME the Chaos, available to those with a flexible schedule who manage a complex and diverse set of commitments without much institutional support.
- For those who long for freedom from the anxiety and stress that you’re forgetting something important or that you’re about to embarrass yourself because you’ve dropped an important ball.
- For those who want to be a better partner, friend, and/or parent because you’re able to be fully present with family and friends and not frantically working or afraid you’re getting behind.
- Or for those who simply want to raise their stature as a scholar, teacher, and/or mentor or command a higher salary because you’ve finally started achieving at the level you’re capable of.
If you found yourself nodding along to any of the above, then this workflow system is for you!
I don’t believe you create chaos; I’m convinced you experience it! I know from my own experience and the experience of others that chaos can jeopardize your success and your peace of mind. Don’t let chaos undermine you, tame it instead.
If you want to join the wait list and be notified when TAME the Chaos launches, click here.