Of course, my goals for the new year are to reduce stress AND be more productive. In other words, all I have to do is work from morning til night and be totally relaxed at the same time.
I’ve been looking for something universally-applicable to say about productivity but everyone’s got their stuff and everyone’s got their own way of dealing with it.
At my house, productivity is inversely proportional to the amount of clutter I have to wade through. And stress is directly proportional.
Like all good plans, mine had a beginning. Or, call it a middle.
Zooming through this part because I’ve already written about it, everything is one of the following:
I find it useful to think in those terms. Three months later, now 20,000 files lighter and many others re-arranged for easier access.
And we wonder why overwhelm and lack of focus sets in …
As I explained, I put all my to-do’s on one very long list in ActionOutline. Printed out as an RTF it was 136 pages. And that didn’t include the 53GB in my Inbox.
I looked for anything that could possibly go on my calendar. I try to schedule most repetitive things either weekly or monthly. Some things are only nervous habits. Maybe I do them daily when weekly or monthly would suffice. If I put them on a calendar they’re taken care of as far as my mind is concerned. I don’t have to keep fretting that I might forget.
And then I looked at my to-do list again and felt horribly distressed. Not because it was too long and I’d never get it done, (News Flash! to-do lists are self-propagating) but because something was still essentially wrong with this approach. I began to fixate on the image of trying to move a mountain with a teaspoon.
I do understand that you have to marry your to-do’s with time or you’ve still got nothing but I was running into a time problem.
I started making deals with the universe about how I was going to split my 24/7. I created an ‘everyday’ list but it got too long really fast. The whole next year was already booked and it hadn’t even started yet. I’m mostly retired now. How did I get here?
So I decided I was going to have no list; the 2013 No List Retirement Plan. No goals, no plans, no lists, nothing. I was going into 2013 with my eyes wide open and zero expectations.
That felt pretty good. And a little bit scary.
So I read some more blog posts about productivity and watched a few David Allen videos. I haven’t read his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity yet but I may have already been there via Derek Franklin. (Things were sounding familiar.)
And I was still stuck.
I know this may run against the teachings of every productivity guru out there but there’s a point where prioritizing and time-boxing a list of to-do’s toasts my brain. I’m not saying it doesn’t work because it definitely does, but something really big was still missing for me.
I took everything out of categories and had one simple to-do list sorted alphabetically where I could see everything exposed. In all its naked glory I was hoping for a clue.
Nothing looked any more important than anything else. That made it easy. Sort of.
And then I had an epiphany.
(Cuz told me yesterday that Epiphany commemorates the day when the wise men saw Jesus in the manger. I didn’t know that. But not that kind of ephiphany.)
The Seasons of My Mind
Something I’ve known all my life is that when my mind is busy it works in predictable grooves, for better or worse, and it runs on its own time-table. Since I’ve spent most of my life independently employed I haven’t been beaten down, since childhood anyway, into regular schedules or routines of any kind. I’ve tried a million tricks to train myself and have utterly failed at all of them. (Hope springs eternal.) These are the grooves:
I feel like running around getting things done; making phone calls, answering email, cleaning up folders, fixing things. The to-do list is made of single action items. One item might take anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 months but it’s still one thing.
When I’m in writing-mode my mind won’t do anything else. You can put food down in front of me or set the house on fire and my mind won’t stop writing.
Sometimes, usually at night just before bedtime, I come up with big projects that I think I can get done by sunrise. It’s not just things like build a new website or write a book. It can be anything; the bucket list of wild dreams. I try to turn off that part of my mind that has a million reasons why I can’t whatever-it-is and use a clipboard and a pencil to sketch it out. This is daydreaming mode.
Sometimes I crave learning in a way I imagine some people crave chocolate or coffee and it almost doesn’t matter what. I need someone to teach me something. If I have a pre-made list of places to go it saves me the self-destructive habit of watching the 6 o’clock news or clicking around aimlessly looking for my fix.
I took my giant to-do list and did this with it:
If I try to write when my mind is in Learn mode, I get nothing written. If I try to concentrate on learning something when I’m in To-Do mode nothing sticks. I’m tripping over my own mental feet.
If you’re working for someone else you may not have the luxury of being yourself but, if you do, (here’s the punch line you’ve been waiting for) define your own unique rhythm and work with it instead of against it. You’ll get a lot more done with a lot less strain.
Lists should be reviewed regularly for priorities and purging of things that don’t matter anymore. Just because something was important to you a year ago doesn’t mean it’s still important now.
I came across this for goal-setting.
You can set as many goals as you want. Anything you want to do, change or accomplish. This is a printable page. Print one sheet per goal.
They say it takes 3 weeks to establish a new pattern, so my suggestion would be to start one goal per month. Start something today, get that pie-plate spinning in the air, then something else on February 1st and then March 1st and so on. Otherwise, your mind will go into massive resistance.
So far I’m choosing just one; one thing I really want to change in my life over the next year. Every day I do something toward my goal and I tick the box. It’s my external mind bugging me. Download it here.