Vivek's blog: A counterintuitively productive hospital stay

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A counterintuitively productive hospital stay

I learned a profound lesson in prioritization today.

My most excellent wife, Janet, went into labor last night. Seven hours and three calls to the midwife later, we swung into action. We made sure all the bags were packed, the dishes done and the cat well fed. It was time.

Except it wasn't. Despite the assurances of the first midwife - 'Well, you're in labor; I don't think we're sending you home today' - it turned out to be a false alarm. After nine hours in two different hospital rooms, we finally came home. (Janet's in the bath as I write this.)

But here's the thing. As Janet experienced that first contraction, I remember thinking, 'We're not ready. I'm not ready.'

There was an emotional aspect to this. A man can prepare intellectually forever, but can he truly be ready for fatherhood before the fact? However, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the pile of tax forms on my desk, the dirty laundry on the floor next to my side of the bed, the musical instruments and assorted hardware strewn about the (putative) nursery, the leftovers in the fridge that I had neglected to put in the freezer. And a thousand other things. When the call came, I knew - just knew - that I didn't have my life in order adequately.

But somewhere along the line, that changed. As we bundled into the car, I mentally reviewed the things I needed to have in order for when we came home with a baby. Will Janet be comfortable? Will we have enough to eat and drink? Will we have a safe, cosy spot for the baby? Do we have all the ingredients for a secure, loving household?

Instantly, the list cleared in my mind. I knew, with absolute clarity, what the key things were that I needed to address. I did those (it took all of five minutes) and pushed everything else off the list. By the time we hit the hospital, I was completely certain that we were ready to welcome a child into the world.


What a revelation. If I go back to work tomorrow (a 50-50 proposition right now), I'll be on fire. Of the 1100 things on my list, maybe 10 are important for me to achieve my professional goals, as well as those of my workplace. The rest shouldn't even be on a backlog: it all needs to be cast aside.

Take a look at your personal backlog. Ask yourself how much of it is on there because it's socially important (eg your friends will look down on you if you don't even aspire to doing it) or because you feel as though it's something you just 'ought' to do. Cut out what's unimportant to your goals - cut it out altogether. It feels great.

Then ask yourself why you haven't done the rest.

So there you have it. At least I got something out of our day at the hospital. I can only imagine what lessons I'll learn when the baby actually arrives.

It'll be excellent.