Hello and welcome to the first quick tips episode of the Discover Grow Shinecast.
Thanks for joining me on the path to health, wealth and wisdom.
This quick tips episode is about the key to making forward progress on any type of project, goal, journey–or even just getting through your work day.
Here’s the Situation: You are stuck, tired, overwhelmed by some project at work, or maybe you have a to-do list that seemingly has 25 things on it and all of those items are screaming “next, now.”
If you use a Mac you know the spinning pinwheel of death that appears when the computer is working hard but nothing seems to be happening. A program has stalled or is slowly loading because the computer resources aren’t sufficient for the operation.
Today’s tips are designed to help you stop the spinning pinwheel in your own life.
These tips come from a combination of the lessons I’ve personally learned from experience–and am still learning every day–and also through my study of the wisdom of the ages.
I am keenly aware of how difficult it can be to tackle a big project that has many moving parts.
It’s a challenge that I encountered often in law practice. We typically would have a transaction that had lots of moving parts, many elements of a contract to negotiate, due diligence to research and verify terms and conditions of the transaction, and we usually had a hard deadline tied to a tax year or market condition.
One of the first things I learned as a young lawyer was to develop and use checklists to make sure that nothing is overlooked.
But I also had to be careful to not let the checklist and the “outcome” of the transaction distract me from what I need to do in the moment.
We all know, deep down, that items typically must be completed in an order of priority, even if they’re all screaming, “do me next.” So having the daily to-do list can actually be self-defeating in terms of productivity. You need a checklist, but you also must have a now, next strategy.
So if you’ve encountered the overwhelmed that can often come from too many demands on your resources I hope these tactics I’m going to offer will help.
They’ve certainly help me. Every time I get stuck, feel deflated, or just too busy and tired and on the verge of giving up, these are the tactics I use to help get myself back on track.
Step #1: No matter how busy you are and how close you are to a deadline. Just Stop. Stop working. Ideally, get up and move to a new location in your office, your home. If you have 2 chairs in your office, move to the other one. If you are in a cubicle, stand up or, at the least turn your chair in a different direction. Walk around your building or workspace, if you can. Walk outside, if you can.
Step #2: Sit or walk in quiet for at least 10 minutes before doing anything else. Set the clock on your phone to alarm in 10 minutes.
Step #3: During that 10 minute break, don’t think. Just breath. If you have a thought pop into your head, say, “ok, I’ll consider that when the break is over.
If you’re struggling to maintain the sense of “nothingness” other than your breath, don’t worry. It does get easier. Just breath. If it helps, think of a word that inspires you and repeat that word as you breath in and out to distract your brain. Two syllable words work for in/out or pick two words.
If you’re walking, I suspect this will be easier at first–it helps you change perspectives. But walking isn’t required. Something that disrupts the pattern you’re in is what’s the key. So that’s why I say to stand up, switch chairs, turn your chair to face a different direction–whatever you can do where you are.
When I’m most productive, I intentionally schedule 10-15 minute silent breathing breaks into my work day. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve lapsed at actually scheduling these breaks this summer and have found myself spinning wheels, just like the little Mac pinwheel of death.
So now your 10 minute break is over…..what to do next?
Step 4: Consider the task before you. What’s the one next thing you can do to move the task forward?
Do you need to make a phone call? Make it. Don’t think about the phone call. Make the call.
Not sure what to do next? Write on a piece of paper (yes write these down) what are 3 things that need to be done with this project. Don’t write everything just write 3 things.
Then number those three things in order that they need to be completed. Prioritize them.
Take the first item on the list. Break that item into a sequence of steps.
Do not think about anything related with the other two items on your list. You are focusing on the first item on your list.
You should have written down at least 2-3 steps needed to complete that item on the list.
Prioritize those 2-3 steps.
If the first item on that list is one thing. Do that one thing. If it’s not one step. Break it into steps, prioritize and do that one thing again.
Here’s an example for me:
I’ve been putting off recording this quick tips episode because I was going in circles about topics and how to connect it to the first two episodes about being lost and getting back on track after setbacks.
I was also contemplating my choice of wordpress themes and where to host the show.
As I struggled with these choices, I put this system into effect. It’s the system that’s worked very well for me over the past few years.
Took my break.
Items on my initial short list:
- Where to host the Discover Grow Shinecast: Shinecast.net or Ben Franklin Follies.
- Need to get busy adding content to Shinecast.net or change the theme if that’s what’s holding me back.
- Create and publish this quick tips episode, because I’m on the deadline and feed is active in iTunes.
Obviously, the episode has the priority. Stop thinking about the other issues for the immediate moment.
What are the next few steps for publishing the quick tips episode?
- Decide on a topic.
- Write an outline.
- Record the episode.
- Edit and assemble.
So I decided to make the topic on moving forward with the project. I made this choice because it happened to be the key lesson in one of my readings for the weekend.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That’s from the 64th verse of the Tao.
Jesus offers similar wisdom when he said not to be anxious about tomorrow.
One of my own epiphanies from a few years ago when I was past the point of knowing the mission and was bogged down in figuring out which step to take to move the mission forward this: “take action, the results will amaze you.”
I’ve found that when I maintain a long to-do list, I typically get to the point of overwhelm much faster than simply making a list of 2-3 or so items that need to be completed, prioritize those and then break those items into the next steps.
When I do that, I’m much more productive.
I have a Post-it note on my desk that says: “Do the next thing.”
Easy to say, hard to do, especially when we have lots of things on the to do list.
Again, the first step in my approach to overwhelm is to stop, break your pattern, and regroup.
That’s what the 10 minutes of quiet is all about. You can call it walking, breathing meditation if you want to call it that, but it’s intended to give you a bit of respite to regroup.
I think 10 minutes is ideal for this exercise because it can sometimes take 3-4-5 minutes to get into the break, to get into the pattern interrupt.
Back in June I started my honey harvest and when I got into one of the hives I realized that I’d tackled a project that I wasn’t adequately prepared for. The supers were higher than my height and strength would allow me to move, except by removing one frame at a time. A few of the frames weren’t yet fully capped so that further complicated the mission.
When you are working with honeybees you have to be focused and deliberate.
So I turned my attention to removing the frames, one by one. Unfortunately, at that time, I only had one empty super available in which to put the frames I’d removed. The end result was that I pulled the frames of honey that I could pull, closed up the hive and decided to regroup and resume honey harvesting later–after I’d purchased an additional hive body to give me the extra supers I needed to do the frame-by-frame pulling that would be required.
When you’re confronted with a big challenge you need to stop, regroup, change your perspective. Do this by taking a 10 minute break that gives your conscious brain a rest and your unconscious mind a chance to influence the conscious brain.
Then, after that 10 minute break, identify the next thing you need to do at that moment and break that next thing down into simple tasks. One by one. Write those steps down on a notepad or index card and then do each item, in order of priority.