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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Monkey Brain/Next Steps

Thursday, rainy again - rains are coming regularly now which is a good thing, but it does make for a gloomy day. Busy schedule today, physical therapy for my knee, waxing and eyebrows, and then a voice lesson with a new teacher at 2:30. Tucked on either side of those personal things is work - got two new projects to sink my teeth into.

It's really happening - the tidying of my life. Looking back six months or so and it all seemed so impossible - mountains to move. Just the thought of it was paralyzing. Moving out of the office, cleansing the house of 20+ years of accumulation, garage, basement, storage locker, yard, home improvements. It's all getting done, little by little, day by day. Not to mention the technology refresh - whiz bang network, backups that work, cloud storage of vital documents should there be a fire, photographs and movies digitized, nothing kept on paper, everything scanned. Goal is to have everything slimmed down and tidy, every kitchen cabinet organized, linens ironed and ready for the next feast, houseplants pruned and happy, animals up to date on shots, piano tuned, fireplace chimney-swept, nothing out of date in the medicine cabinet, woodwork oiled, windows sparkling. Lovely.

And speaking of slimming down, that's going well too - down 16+ pounds in recent months with no end in sight. Eating well is the number one focus these days - it's a sacred self care promise that can't be broken. Now that the knee is on the mend, going to resume the 10,000 steps - good timing for that, now that the heat wave has broken.

What's on my mind today besides congratulating myself on work well done, is the concept of living a life you love. I'm pretty convinced it's mostly hard work that gets you there - hard work, daily effort that's punctuated by flashes of fun and inspiration. Not long ago I talked about the book, Getting Things Done.  I've got it on my coffee table to reread and I'm thinking of taking one of their seminars - I want to get really good at "getting things done." Some of it "took" already - especially the concept of "next steps". Let me explain. Every day I make a list of things that need to be accomplished. In the old days, I might have put on the list an item such as "book project" but itemizing a task in that way is very unhelpful. It's a huge undertaking - lugging 1,000 books from the 3rd to the 2nd floor, sorting through them, getting book-sized boxes to pack them up, taping the boxes, getting the boxes to the library for donation.  "Book Project" encompasses all of those mini tasks. Other examples of things you might put on your list (in an unhelpful way) would be, "plan vacation", "clean garage", "Christmas baking".  I don't know about you, but having those items, written that way on my list, would be paralyzing - hard to tackle them.

If, on the other hand, you break the project down into steps - take a moment to think about what's involved in doing the book project - identifying the steps - then it's eminently do-able. On my list the first day was, "get book boxes".  I combined that errand with others and it only took about 15 minutes. Next day a new item on my list, "get boxes out of car trunk".  Next day, "look for packing tape". Next day, "Ask Shay to bring books downstairs" (got off easy on that one). Next day's list, "pack one box of books". And so forth. I will put "pack one box of books" on my daily list until the project is done. There is always time in a day to pack just one box of books. "Next steps".

Another concept from Getting Things Done that I love is the idea of grouping dissimilar tasks. You might have seven phone calls to make that are totally unrelated: a call to a client, returning a call to your kid, a dentist appointment, lunch with a friend, etc. Our minds tend to be project focused and it's not intuitive to sit down and crank out all seven calls, one right after each other, but if you get good at it, it's an incredibly efficient way of getting things done. Getting Things Done has you keep lists of activities by type. Maybe you're going to get your car washed and have to sit there for twenty minutes - if you have a list of all the calls you need to make, you could grab that on your way out the door and put that otherwise idle time to good use while you wait for your car to be done.

Challenge today could be getting the book Getting Things Done, or if not, thinking about the concept of "Next Steps" and how dicing and slicing your projects into mouthfuls might just get big projects done without undue effort. What I'm discovering is, there is a HUGE price to having our lives cluttered - the psychic toll is enormous. Recently my daughter asked me to read a book called Monkey Brain. Based on what she described, I'm expecting it to be a book about how our brains never shut up. I think we all suffer from monkey brain because we live in a world with so much stimuli and obligation. If your life is cluttered with "shoulds", if everywhere you look, a project mocks you, if every time you sit down with a cup of tea, guilt overwhelms you - you are monkey brained.

We should be able to sit in the beautiful environment we have created and nurtured and just be - thinking creative thoughts, enjoying the silence, planning something fun - guilt free.  Before that can happen though, the decks have to be cleared.


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