The Fly and the Scope Creep

Today’s post comes to you courtesy of a rather truculent mood. Editing will have me sanding down the sharp corners, vaguing up the specifics, and trying to eke out some sort of lesson from it.

canstockphoto15570783A cumulative song is one that starts out with a simple verse and then each verse is longer than the verse before. A classic example of this is “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” that begins with There was an old lady who swallowed a fly; I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – perhaps she’ll die! The song builds progressively until the final, much longer verse:

There was an old lady who swallowed a cow;
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow!

She swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider;
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her!
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – Perhaps she’ll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a horse;

…She died, of course

I enjoyed the macabre ending, because that might actually be the lesson. Really, though, I see it as a metaphor for my life at the moment. After aimlessly meandering through decades of life, I became determined a few years ago to be more deliberate in how I spend my time. This isn’t to say I intended on spending every minute of every day in bliss. It meant that I would make deliberate choices about how I spend my non-household/chore/to-do list/obligation time. I can usually manage this for about a year or so and then something happens. I swallow a fly.

canstockphoto72780678Cut to a year later and I’m a seething ball of resentment who seems to find less joy as each day goes by. What happens? I learned the phrase scope creep from my husband, a computer programmer who has, in the course of his career, worked on corporate projects in an ever-changing environment where there are too many meetings, too many bosses, and too many shiny objects to distract people. The simplest project can be turned into 45 PowerPoints on various aspects requiring more people, resources, and unending bagel-laden confabs (he just told me that they don’t eat bagels anymore – it’s mini-cupcakes). And accountability nowhere to be found.

In my life as an underemployed writer/feckless homemaker, there is no distribution email list to spread the blame. I am the cc and the bcc. If my life becomes an unwieldy mess, I have to put myself on probation. When I suddenly find that my intention to become a better writer is getting sidelined by activities only tangentially related or when my intention to contribute to my community is suddenly me on a committee talking about catering menus, that’s scope creep. My intentions are in sight, but a mile or two back.

It happens slowly. I’m a relatively competent person and a problem-solver. My knee-jerk reaction to any situation is to jump in and try to add value. My jerk reaction is to write a resentful post about it later.

So I’ve hit that magical resentment point where I have to pull back, retract the tentacles, pull the fingers out of one too many pies. While I still make the mistake of saying yes, I can do it, I’m getting much faster at saying, in the words of a friend’s son, ALL DONE NOW.

This year, I’m kicking off the age that the average American woman goes through menopause by rewriting my mission statement (this broad really nows how to throw a party). Mission statements are now part of the corporate self-actualization process along with vision boards and copious amounts of organizers and Post-it Notes. Still, some of these things are useful. If you can’t enunciate why you’re here or what has meaning to canstockphoto15539188you, how do you ensure that you’re spending your time in meaningful ways? Like writing an incoherent sentence that demonstrates the difference between you’re and your.

Eliminating scope creep is a challenge. It means taking back a yes or twenty from other people or projects and giving those yeses to yourself, your projects, your time. And if it sounds a bit self-involved, it’s a damned sight better than putting the things that matter to you aside, and resentfully doing everything else. Nobody wants that person at their meeting.

17 thoughts on “The Fly and the Scope Creep

  1. Loved “knee-jerk” vs. “jerk” reactions! I just finished Greg McKeown’s “Essentialism.” Old wisdom, but attractively re-stated. From the severe discipline of choice — or its lack — our experience is largely born. I think you’d like the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read that McKeown book last year and simply like the word “essentialism”. Doing less, but better has been my goal the last couple of years, but old habits die hard, and the scope of practically every activity I’m doing has crept beyond the boundaries of my intentions. Reeling it back in is hard to do and I need to remember that before I commit to things. Awareness and practice. Rinse and repeat, right?


  2. Scope creep was something I dealt with in the business world continually. Clients always wanted to add tasks to our plates that weren’t in the original contract. We, of course, wanted to keep clients happy, and “this little task really isn’t going to be a big deal.” But, cumulatively, they were a big deal. Plus, our acquiescence unintentionally communicated to clients that sure, you can keep piling it on. We realized that the more detailed and specific we were in our contracts, the more effectively we could avoid scope creep. Now that I’m out of the business world, I try to be detailed and specific in my personal commitments and to treat them with the same seriousness as I did client contracts. Your thoughtful post also reminded me that in strategic planning I always cautioned clients that “everything you say ‘yes’ to means you have to say ‘no’ to something else, so be very mindful about what you’re saying yes to.” I remind myself of this frequently, and see each no as a minor victory, as it allows me to say yes to what really matters. Thanks for another thoughtful post, Michelle.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s amazing how entrenched some habits are. Intellectually I know where I want to go, but that “yes” pops out of my mouth and before I know it, I’m spending all my time doing nothing that I’ve planned! I think I’m getting better at it, but I haven’t gotten to the preventative stage yet. There’s hope still, if I keep practicing. Figuring out a mission statement, though, has been very helpful – matched up against every activity, it’s easier to see what supports it and what doesn’t.
      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Donna – they’re helpful examples!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say maybe the scope creep person is closer to your true self than the writer in you. But the resentment … that seems to counter my idea.


    1. There’s no doubt that doing a lot of different activities is my go-to response and has been for most of my life. I joke about being a jack of many trades and master of none. But now I seek to master something, so it means a habit change and a little more reflection about how I spend my time.


  4. This was an excellent post! I wish we could all crawl in and live in the blissed-out version of life! I am a paralegal so my whole job is, frustratingly, scope creep. It really does build resentment because I rarely get to finish my real tasks. I wish I had the power to say no but that’s not an option, unfortunately.


    1. I know there are strategies for limiting scope creep in jobs, but so often we’re too busy drowning in the creep to implement those strategies! I know there are no easy answers, but I always think about the idea that we make the biggest difference at the margins, nibbling away at and transforming minor time sucks, like not answering email for the first hour of the day or learning to prioritize tasks rapidly. It’s hard to figure out what will make the most difference.


  5. I had no idea you were back to blogging. I just re-read a comment you left on my blog years ago and wondered what had become of you. I’m glad that your decision to not let yourself be overwhelmed didn’t include writing on your blog. Scope creep hits us all, but once you see how much better life can be by limiting your focus… well, life is better.


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