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The proportion of time and focus needed by our professional and personal lives changes over time, whether it is due to a sentinel event, such as a promotion, the season, an addition to our family, or something unexpected such as an illness.

Often we try to continue to meet the commitments they made, while trying to cope with a monumental change, and set ourselves up to fail on both the personal and professional front.

When a change in our professional or personal lives occurs, assessing the requirements of the situation is the first step.  Recognizing what we can reliably accomplish is next.  Admitting to ourselves what we can’t do and what we need help to do and communicating that to those depending on us is absolutely necessary.

Recently the project manager of an intense software development effort that had to be completed by the end of the year found himself in just this type of situation.  He was working out of town four days a week when his father’s dementia spiraled out of control.  He made everyone aware of the issue and went home to deal with the problem; however, he continued to try to lead the project.  Since he was not only the project manager, but also a contributor, the project was soon behind, much to the chagrin of the client who was depending upon him, to the detriment of the company he was working for, and the team that was depending on him.

Lest we think poorly of him, this is the rule rather than the exception.  More often than not, we either believe they we’re irreplaceable or that we’ll lose our position if we’re honest about what we can reasonably achieve while we’re dealing with the situation.  What’s unfortunate is by waiting to ask for help we not only lose the opportunity to get the help they need, we fail to achieve the required results. 

This type of situation can also occur in our professional lives.  The President of a company I was working with wisely sat down with his family and discussed with them the project his company was undertaking and the fact that it would mean long hours and periods of intense focus for the next year.  That year stretched to almost two; however, he kept his family up to date with the progress.  Because his family knew what the goal was, and how important it was to the success of the company, they supported him and he was able to focus on achieving the results.    

When we find ourselves in the situation when – regardless of where we are and what we’re doing – we feel guilty about where we aren’t and what we’re not doing, it’s time to renegotiate our commitments.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.