Timebox the Emotion

During my first year at Avanti, particularly when our team was much smaller (<40 employees), I found it particularly emotional and personal dealing with employee resignations, especially when the departing team member was a strong performer.

Self-doubt and self-criticism were quick to creep in. It felt like a vote of no-confidence, a failure on behalf of the company and me. It didn’t matter whether I worked closely with the person or not.

Finding out someone I respected quit could sometimes throw off most of my day and make it hard to concentrate or focus. And make it hard to show up how I wanted to in other meetings or conversations.

Fortunately for me, one afternoon I attended a speaker session on Sales and Marketing effectiveness. I don’t recall any of the Sales and Marketing content, but the presenter told a story that really stuck with me: that morning, she stopped briefly outside a café and chanced not paying for parking. When she returned, there was a ticket sitting on the dash. She was furious at herself. But she knew there was nothing that could be done, so she set her alarm for 20 minutes and told herself she would allow the feeling of frustration for up to 20 minutes and no more.

It was a mini lightbulb moment for me: you can timebox how long you allow yourself to feel upset, frustrated, or pissed off about something.

It helped me create a more productive mental model for dealing with tough events. Especially once something is no longer in your control. Giving myself a clear timeframe to feel the associated emotion makes it a lot easier to let things go. It brings back the semblance of control during a time when it can feel like out-of-control events are really having an impact on you.

Now, when something frustrating or upsetting happens, I’ll often ask myself the question: how long do I want to allow myself to stew in the emotion?

Certainly, this framework isn’t intended for events that are truly life-changing or traumatic… but so often it’s the smaller events that become the unintended mental distractions and time/mood-sucks.

And for clarity, letting something go is not the same as ignoring it. Certainly, you can seek the learning opportunity from a frustrating event, even once the emotional timebox is over.