By Jannah Mandwee
Jannah Mandwee entered the Foreign Service in 2020, after completing the FAIT Fellowship program and earning her degree in Computer Science and French & Francophone Studies at the University of Michigan. She writes from her first post in Yerevan, Armenia, to share what she is learning about prioritizing in a job where every day is different.
I cannot count how many times I’ve cried over something that I deemed as the be-all-end-all outcome, only to reflect on it well after it’s passed and say, “Eh, that wasn’t so bad.” It’s not usually major things, but the accumulation of – as Blink-182 greatly put it – All the Small Things.
I was in the midst of the chaos that is PCS-ing (Permanent Change of Station) to my first post: Yerevan, Armenia. My stress level had never been higher; panic attacks, upset stomach, sleep deprivation…all part and parcel with my move. But I was given great advice to help me remain calm: “Let go of all the small things.”
This does not mean put it at the end of my list and come back to it, which would ultimately keep the list at a great length and add more stress and anxiety. It means to let it go completely. It’s small, it’s unimportant, it’s negligible. So just let it go and keep going.
Who cares if it’s the weekend and the dishes still aren’t done? So what if I forgot to pick up toothpaste from Target on my way home? If I can’t get myself to make my bed today because my PCS is in 24 hours, that’s understandable! If I am not in the mindset to get any of these tasks done, constantly thinking about them only makes things worse. Thinking about these small things that need to get done, without actually getting them done, just adds more strain to the brain.
With larger, more important tasks in front of me, I can choose to not only put these small things on the back burner, but to turn the burner off altogether.
I guess you could say this is the Marie Kondo technique for decluttering your mind- and it works! Write down the big task, cross it off, move to the next one. And once all the larger things are done, I can make a list of the smaller, less immediate things.
Though I wish that I had this advice earlier in my life, I am grateful to have it with me now at my first post where I constantly put it to use as I acclimate to my duties. Days at the embassy never repeat, therefore I do not have a set schedule of prioritized tasks. It’s great that I am always on my toes and constantly learning, but I have to be prepared to reorganize and prioritize as tasks come along.
I may be working on an account transfer at my desk when I am informed that the Ambassador’s internet is down at her residence. I could be assisting a user with an installation on their cell phone when the conference room computer for a Management meeting is refusing to connect to the video call. Sometimes mail processing goes through lunch and I have to reschedule the one-on-one I had with my colleague. Tasks may move around, but they all get done eventually.
The IMS job is one with a constant cycle of triaging, quick-thinking, and just letting go of all the small things. Regardless of the work I do or the post I end up in, this is one piece of advice that I am keeping at the top of my list.