Last night I was delighted to participate in a panel hosted by Canadian Women in Communications, speaking alongside Rebecca Bollwitt (aka Miss 604) and Gillian Shaw of the Vancouver Sun. CWC President Stephanie MacKendrick did a terrific job of eliciting our respective stories on how we got into social media, and really homed in on the question of how we were each inspired to make careers in the digital realm.

One of the questions that came up in the ensuing discussion was how we each maintain balance between our on- and offline lives, or between work and personal life. Did any of us have personal mantras that helped us stay grounded?

I shared the mantra that’s helped keep our house sane(r) for the past 8 years: O.M.F.T.  We discovered O.M.F.T. when our daughter was 6 months old, and I was trying to finish my dissertation, and we only had child care about 15 hours a week, and Rob went on the road for six weeks to serve as Jack Layton’s speechwriter during the 2004 election campaign. I was beyond stressed out, and as I found myself sitting in the garage one afternoon drinking an emergency glass of wine (I’d already gone through all the wine in the house, but had some kosher-for-Passover wine stashed away), I had to admit that we were trying to live and work beyond our actual capacity. Thus was born our acronym for clearly declaring a personal or professional commitment out-of-scope: if it was just One More Fucking Thing, O.M.F.T.

You know a commitment is O.M.F.T. if you’ve had a cold for two weeks, have a kid home sick with strep, and are behind on five crucial, looming deadlines. (This is just hypothetical, of course.) At that point, anything that isn’t related to meeting one of those deadlines, or keeping you and your family alive, has to be designated O.M.F.T.  Say no to it, or if it’s already on your plate, take it off.

O.M.F.T. can help you keep your online life in order, too. Are you already running too hard, just keeping your Twitter feed, blog and Facebook profile alive? Well, maybe Google+ is O.M.F.T.  Do you have 45 unanswered client e-mails? Well, maybe the RFP that just landed in your inbox is O.M.F.P., and you don’t actually have to submit a proposal…you’ve got plenty of work already.  Is your iPhone refusing to sync with your computer? Well, maybe fixing it is just O.M.F.T. and for now, you’re going to have to live un-synced.

The truth is that if you live online, you don’t have One More Fucking Thing — you probably have dozens. The Internet generates a constant stream of demands for your attention, input and work. The only way to keep from being totally overwhelmed by those demands is to develop a reflexive way of separating out what’s essential from what’s optional, and to recognize whenever you’re in a moment of stress or activity that necessarily limits you to only the essentials.

O.M.F.T. is the tool that works for me. Start asking yourself whether the latest demand to hit your inbox is O.M.F.T., and it could work for you too.

Photo by woodleywonderworks