Friday, September 5, 2008

Getting Clear & Current

It happens to us all at some point. Somewhere along the line, one little meaningless task got put off. And then another. And another. Pretty soon your mind is begging you to stop whatever you're doing (or not doing), because it's too busy trying to figure out all of the things that you're not doing, unable to settle on just one little task. So we freeze up, forced to do the hard mental reboot, which could come in many forms, like for instance a trip to the gym to blow off steam, some time with the kids in the backyeard to decompress, or a fistful of Advil, ideally washed down with a pint of Early Times.

That moment no doubt has happened in our work or home lives hundreds of times, I'm sure. If it hasn't, then you're either one of the most successful people in the world, or you really have nothing to do. We all handle work overload in different ways. Some good, others not so good. I can tell you from personal experience that a chronic procrastinator tends to fall in the latter category. Most of the time those simple, less than 2-minute tasks get put off, thrown in the in-basket, or forgotten about in a sea of emails.

So how do you do the hard mental reboot? Well, that's obviously somewhat subjective, depending or your personality type. What is universal with humans is that your brain is a lousy place to keep a list of projects or to-do's. So a natural place to start is to figure out exactly what all of the "stuff" is that's not only cluttering your physical work or living space, but deciding concretely what the next step is to get something closer to completion. No doubt most of us have some time bombs lurking in our in-baskets, an unfinished project that landed in our email inbox that hasn't been opened in 2 weeks, or a garage that was slated to be cleaned out months ago which keeps mysteriously accumulating random crap that doesn't belong there. Whatever it is, you've got to be able to capture it all, somehow, some way, and someplace. The all-knowing wizard of Getting Things Done, David Allen, says that "You'll only be comfortable with what you're not doing, when you know what you're not doing."

Think about that for a second. It seems like the times when an unfinished task or project comes up from the deep recesses of what little brain matter I have is at a time or location when I have zero ability to do anything about it. Rarely do we even have a piece of paper and a pen to jott it down. Of course, by the time you need to remember it, your brain has already sent it back to the bottom of the stack, only to bring it back to the top when you can't do a thing about it. Again. Setting aside some time to dump as many of these loose strands out of my head as I can onto a piece of paper at least gets it out of my head. The next step is getting that information into a system I will use and trust, so when I need it, I've already done all of the thinking that I needed to. It's one thing to write it down, but quite another to get it onto a place you know you will see it and utilize it.

So if you're like me, the daily grind can turn your workspace, kitchen, house, computer, and brain into EF4 tornado damage (had to sneak in some weather geekdom). Setting aside a little time each week to get clear & current on everything you've got on your plate can mean the difference between an enjoyable, relaxing weekend at home, or one packed with nothing but fear and dread for the coming week ahead. Here's a little something I do. I'll take all of the random stuff that's accumulated on my desk, and throw it all in/around the in-basket (Yes, this is my crap. Frightening.). Then, one-by-one, I pick up each item, determine what it is, what if anything is actionable about it, and figure out where it goes. If it's a task, it'll end up going into my particular list system that I can review pretty much anywhere at anytime. Project materials get placed in the proper files, and stuff I don't need heads to the recycle bin. Same goes for email.

Do I always practice what I preach? Anyone who knows me pretty much knows the answer to that. I'm an 18-carat procrastinator, mixed in with what I'm sure has to be some adult ADHD. But I'm better today because the tricks I've learned trying to stay on top of all the different stuff that goes on in this "game of work, and the business of life." There's thousands of things you can check out about this GTD stuff, which in true geek circles is referred to as "productivity p0rn". For many it's not as guilty, but equally procrastinative to cruise a bunch of GTD-themed websites and still not do anything that is considered actual work. But I'm sure none of you will have that problem.

So bottom line: It's never going to all get done. Just (literally) get your sh*t together, and get to the point where you know all of the things that you're doing, or more imporatntly, all the things you're NOT doing!


dannielo said...

For implementing GTD you might try out this web-based application:

You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
A mobile version and iCal are available too.

Hope you like it.

Rob said...

Thanks so much for linking to my Mega GTD list! Rob

Dixon said...

Thanks for taking the time to put a list like that together, Rob!! Now I'm guaranteed not to get anything done while I spend all my time surfing that list about Getting Things Done.

Makes perfect sense to me!! ;^)

Thanks for the tip, Dannielo. I'll take a look at that for sure.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any of the little blue or brown pills?? I've heard those go much better with Early Times!