When does the work get done?

a tired-looking woman works at a desk while two children play in the background

To set up for the question “When does the work get done?” I need to set two scenes.


About a month ago, I sat working in my guest room with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s senate testimony playing in the background. At the same time, news of Russian attacks on Ukraine cut in and out of the simulcast. Those two things alone took up a huge amount of real estate in my brain. Then, on March 27, the Oscars happened.

But add to that, my wife and I both work from home. Until our infant daughter is old enough for daycare, she’s home with us and requires unending attention from at least one of us. Our son, in first grade, spends about six hours at school.

And as soon as he walks in the door after school, it basically triggers a countdown timer. Chores, homework, we play something together, then bedtime. By the time it’s all over, I can barely keep my eyes open.


Some time back in February, I started noticing a trend. An alarming number of colleagues and friends — in many industries in various parts of the country — reported they’ve been unnaturally, impossibly busy and weren’t sure why. I felt it, too, a low chaotic hum that pulsed through every task and interaction.

It felt very seasonal and incidental, and it happened when I talked to other professionals at PYP events, colleagues, vendors and clients. Maybe we were all coming off a weird holiday on the tail end of a pandemic. I can’t be sure.

Two conditions: An abundance of distraction, an impossible number of tasks to slog through.

One question: When does the work get done?

After a ton of introspection and lots of conversations, I came to a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. It gets done when it gets done.

Here’s how to be OK with that.

STEP 1: Practice mindfulness

You’ve heard this a zillion times by now. I’ll tell you again. Slowing down to observe your surroundings reveals things for what they really are, unfiltered by emotions.

The power in that can’t be understated.

We can try to limit distractions, but the truth is distractions are inevitable. Trying to eliminate them becomes a distraction in itself. Learning how to work in spite of them, now there’s a meaningful goal, and mindfulness helps us get there.

STEP 2: Set reasonable expectations.

I struggle the most with this one. I have always had unrealistic ideas about my output and how quickly I can finish tasks. But as soon as I attach a reasonable expectation to when a project can be finished, stress fades.

Practice this daily, accounting for all the parts of your life that might get in the way, and it gets easier. You’ll feel better about what needs to get done and how you’re going to do it.

STEP 3: Assess and adapt

This has become my motto, and it basically puts STEP 1 and STEP 2 on the time continuum. It forces us to evaluate our expectations on an ongoing basis and realign them when necessary.

Tactically, that looks like telling people a project will be delayed the moment we realize what’s happening. It’s choosing to do things differently when circumstances change and being honest to ourselves and others.

Humans are typically really bad at making reality sync up with our expectations, so it helps to be nimble and ready to adjust.


Assume that no one else is doing any of the steps. They’re probably not. That doesn’t mean you’re better than they are. It just means you’ll have less anxiety about doing your job with excellence.

It means you’ll be more compassionate and caring when they struggle to process chaotic world news or juggle life and work responsibilities.

Jon O’Connell is PYP’s Board Advisor for Marketing, a father of two and a work-from-home advertising professional.