clearing your head Archives
Avoid clothes that are too tight or itch. Eat foods that leave you feeling good, not turbulent inside. Surround yourself with silence or soft, pleasant sounds whenever possible.
Create room around yourself to raise hunched shoulders, to breathe deep.
Let all that touches you be by your consent and invitation.
Make space in your world for your best, kindest, most peaceful self.
It's easy to waste time worrying that you haven't done something you should have done when you don't have a clear picture of what you're currently committed to—both to others and to yourself.
The solution to that problem has three parts: A system, a habit, and a piece of permission you give yourself. I learned what I think is the best version of the first two of these from productivity guru David Allen's great book Getting Things Done and his writings and lectures on the topic since, but some of it boils down to good advice any of us might have gotten from a parent or grandparent. "Write it down" and "Measure twice, cut once" are just another way of talking about these same two ideas. As for the third, it is in essence the Discardian mantra: "Let it go".
The system part is to get this stuff out of your head (and your calendar and your inboxes, etc.) and keep it in one master place. That place might be a digital tool (like OmniFocus) or it might be as simple as a paper notebook. Whatever it is, make it easy to get your ideas and commitments into it as soon as they cross your mind.
Constant and fast capture has several benefits. Obviously, one is that you're more likely to remember your ideas and obligations if you write them down. Another is that the faster and simpler you make it to capture these things—by using OmniFocus's quick entry shortcut, for example, or by always having that master notebook with you—the harder it is for those thoughts to seriously distract you from another task at hand. You can park the thought in the right place and carry on with what you were already doing. The last big benefit is that the more you trust and use your system, the better you become at focusing on the right things at the right time.
As writer and teacher Clay Shirky said, "Behavior is motivation filtered through opportunity." In order to be making the right choice of what to do next, you need to understand your motivations (as I discussed in my last post) and make sure you have a complete and current picture of your obligations and options. When you know what you want to achieve and what you've said you'll do, it's much easier to identify the best match between the current opportunity—including your available resources and energy level—and the tasks on your list. But look out: If you don't have a purpose-driven list, other motivations will take over.
This is where the habit comes in. Until you pull back and consider those tasks (and the projects of which they are a part) in light of your goals and values, they can feel like a giant, depressing pile of undifferentiated to-do's.
How do you transform all that stuff you want to do (or someone else wants you to do) into something which will motivate you and keep you calm? You review it regularly. Every week you quickly look over the most important things. Periodically, you review the less important things. As you do that (along with looking at the past and coming couple weeks on your calendar), you'll add any commitments you haven't captured yet and you'll cross off those things which are complete or no longer necessary. By doing this every week, you will be able to trust on the days between that you will be soon returning to that big picture view where any date-bound obligations can be identified and scheduled. During this review—ideally through the very structure you use to organize things within your system, as I discussed last time—you will remind yourself of where these tasks and projects fit in relation to your higher level goals and the roles you want to be playing in the world.
It's easy to resist doing a review—it can take a couple hours for most busy people. But, as David Allen points out, "The additional amount of time and energy that you’ll have to spend, caught in the 'last minute' syndromes which will arise from avoiding a Weekly Review, so far outweigh what the Review requires, pure economics demand that you stop and do it – now!"
One of the things which keeps the review more manageable is to only be looking at the important stuff every single week; other things can be revisited on slower cycles. Use those shiny buckets I talked about last time—the roles you currently want to be playing in the world—as the identifier for what is important right now. For example, if you've currently got a bucket labeled "Awestruck Parent of a Beautiful Newborn Baby" now is unlikely to be the time that you also have in play that bucket labeled "Beginning But Getting Better Marathon Runner". It's fine to quickly note any less important ideas for the future—so you quit trying to carry them around in your head—but focus your time and energy on the projects and tasks for your active roles.
That brings me to the last element of solving the problem of worrying you haven't done everything you should and that is granting yourself permission to define "should". All of us can pile far more expectations on ourselves than any one person could achieve, let alone achieve while enjoying a happy, relaxing, rewarding life. Whether it's a single task, an entire project, a goal requiring multiple projects, or even something as big as a role you play in the world, you are in charge of deciding where it falls in your priorities. It might be currently active, it might be inactive and something you'll review and perhaps revive in the future, or you might exercise "completion by deletion" and drop it from your lists entirely. As I've said before, you can do anything, just not everything. Recognize that you will change over the years and filter your expectations of yourself to maximize your happiness and service to your highest values.
It is that permission to let go which is one of the essential ingredients to sticking with a system like this (and to getting back on track when you veer). Productivity guru and humorist Merlin Mann noted that "The danger of tracking everything is setting yourself up to a) have to keep revisiting them and maybe b) feel bad about not doing." This danger led to my labeling the inactive section of my system as "Things to think about again sometime". Thus I remind myself that these inactive things are not a commitment to do, just an acknowledgement of a thought that I will reconsider at some point in the future, so it can get off my mind now.
Getting stuff out of your head and safely parked somewhere in your system—whether paper or digital—combined with picking today's top few priorities is vastly more productive than perfect fiddly management of all possible tasks. The best systems will support all three aspects I've discussed. They will make it easy to capture an idea for later without losing focus on your current task. They will support weekly review for the important stuff and less frequent reviews for the lower priority things. They will enable marking projects inactive and getting them out of the way of your current focus.
Constant capture to a trusted system, weekly reviews, and choosing to let go of some expectations previously laid on yourself are powerful tools, but can be tough to get into constant use. The value of such organization and habit change can be profound, though. Coach Clarissa Rodriguez said, ''Even if you only save an extra ten minutes a day, over the course of a year that adds up to forty hours... Who couldn't use an extra week in their year?''
"To find satisfaction, composure, and results – we don't need anything extra, fancy, or special. We don't need to do or add more; we need to do less. We just need to let go of some of our assumptions, particularly our thinking that our freedom and happiness lie someplace else, or during some other time, or with some other mind."
- Marc Lesser in his book, Less
Here's a new year's experiment. Empty one drawer or shelf. Leave it empty.
Do the same with an hour in your calendar every week. Keep it unscheduled and available to you.
Create the openness now. Live with it a while. See what you really want to be there.
Welcome to the last day of this June's Discardia! Here we are in the middle of the year with our progress and lessons of the past six months under our belts and plenty of potential ahead of us.
Discardia in June is a trampoline you can use to give you a big bounce forward and break up patterns of stagnation. This holiday period and the time following it is about making choices and acting on them.
Get a little perspective on things. What’s dragging you down or holding you back? Where is your energy going? And is it fueling your engines or just polluting your world?
This is a good time to take a hard look at the patterns in your life right now, decide a few things you want to change, and begin those changes.
Discardian holidays are a reminder to re-commit your energy into moving your world toward awesomeness. Once you're in motion, refine your direction, and let yourself progress to your current goals. Maybe you won't take on as many life-transforming activities between now and the September holiday, but you can set yourself up for the decisions you make and the actions you take between now and then to best serve your dreams.
Of course, sometimes that's very easy
We often live with a layer of distractions muffling us and keeping us from focusing our energy where we really want it.
Start building habits to cut through that noise.
- When you are not at work and you find yourself gnawing away at a coulda woulda shoulda set of thoughts about work, cut it short. Quickly - without getting distracted into reading new mail - open your email and send yourself a very concise note expressing the actions you want to take to resolve or improve the situation. Extract the constructive part from that fuss in your brain, dismiss the rest, send that email to your working life so you can get on with the off-duty part.
- If you're, as Mrs. Lovett says, always broodin' away on your wrongs what happened heaven knows how many years ago, quit sitting there nurturing that tension like a hen on an egg. Take one small immediate step to improve things - and I mean little and right now - then give yourself the rest of the day off from it.
That letter which is half practical questions about an upcoming family event and half guilt-slinging? Just answer the practical part courteously, refrain from any reciprocal slinging, and let go of the rest of that noise. That person you think must be mad at you for some dumb thing you did months ago that you've been afraid to contact? Find something small you can thank 'em for and send a postcard. "Just found myself listening to some Chet Baker and thought of you. Thanks for introducing me to the good stuff!" Open a door you've been holding closed; if they come through to reconnect, great, and if not, at least you aren't spending energy on worrying about it.
- Fretting over something you Should Be Doing? Shit or get off the pot. Sitting on the couch thinking "I really should be exercising"? 20 minutes non-stop action right now. Just do it. It's only 20 minutes and you could blow that checking on Twitter for cryin' out loud. Dishes in the sink? Do 'em now or decide at what time you will do them, set an alarm and relax as you wish until it goes off. Stack of unread books by the bed? Take all but the one you want to read right now away - make a "new arrivals" library shelf at home, representing them as possibility not obligation - and be sure to get anything you've figured out you really don't want to read after all gets out of your life. Here's the big secret: you don't have to finish the book (read the post, listen to the podcast...). Life is short; spend your energy where it enriches your soul.
- Thinking "I'm creatively stagnant" as a commercial comes on in the random tv show you turned on and started watching? Turn off the idiot box; it saps your time and your will. If you want your life designed around certain actions, design your rooms around them. Take a look and see if you've done that with television. If you want to do more of something, grease the slope toward doing it and make it less convenient to fall into habits of distraction. Cancel that cable subscription you don't really use except to get things you can just get online or on DVD when desired. Unless "watch more movies" is your goal, reduce your Netflix membership so there aren't those red envelopes around nagging you that you "should" get to them. If you haven't found yourself revitalized and your life improved by something you watched on the television within the last 10 days, find a better place for it than dominating your living room. Or at least get a cabinet for it today so you can hide this tool until you need it.
Open your eyes to the blockcades you put between you in this moment and where & who you really want to be. When you see them, knock them down. Build bridges to your creative, happy self. Chaucer observered six hundred years ago "The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne". Our time in this world is brief, spend it where it matters to you and not where it doesn't.
What did you welcome into your life in 2006?
What unpleasantness did you get rid of?
How did you transform your home or your self?
A year is never 100% good, so don't just think about the ups & downs; give yourself credit for all the little places where you gave your life a nudge toward the life you want to be living.
Give yourself some time to be alone and quiet and think today.
Just a cup of tea or a walk or a hot bath and let the roar of December quiet down.
No need to think big thoughts unless you feel like it, just let the low-level noise fade away.
Deep breath, everyone.
Rather than spending a lot of energy building up to an encounter you expect to be tense, go into it with an open mind and be a bit more kind yourself.
Okay, so maybe you and that relative argue every year when you see each other, but maybe this time you could avoid it if you don't spend days in advance practicing your arguments in your head.
Spend less of your time bathing in emotions that exhaust you.
And if the other person won't melt the ice on their side, just give them (and you) some distance and spare yourselves the scene.