Gaining control of the steering wheel

Photo courtesy of Jon Rawlinson (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jon Rawlinson (Creative Commons)

When life gets overwhelming and goals get fuzzy, it’s tempting to want to find a way to wave your magic wand and make all the obligations and clutter go away, or at least check grand things off your list with a flourish.

Sadly, that isn’t how things work, but what I have noticed this week, is that taking care of little things does build momentum and with momentum comes clarity.

Last week, I spent time doing what David Allen, productivity guru and bestselling author of Getting Things Done, calls a brain dump. I wrote down all the things that were floating in my head that needed to be done, from errands to projects to chores. This is basically clearing mental clutter like you do physical clutter. As he recommends, get it all out of your head so you can see the full scope of your “open loops.”

And boy, were there a lot of them! The list went on, and was as comprehensive as listing “iron” and “put WD40 on closet door” to “look into phone plans” and “network more actively on LinkedIn.” I just wrote it all down (well, typed it in Evernote actually).

According to David Allen, there are actually five steps that he promotes for “mastering workflow.” You must:
• Collect everything that has your attention
• Process those things by deciding if an action is needed or not
• Organize by grouping into categories (like lists of errands or things to do when you are online) and designating the next action step
• Review your lists frequently
• Do the things on your lists.

I kind of skipped a few of steps, because the processing and organizing became more overwhelming than the brain dump itself. What I am discovering is that my eyes glaze over after working with the list for very long because I let it get so out of control. My tactic is to whittle down the list in hopes of making more sense of it later. I guess I’m using “Modified GTD Methodology.”

I’m using my calendar heavily, since that seems to be the thing that drives the most productivity for me. I am blocking out time either in the early morning or evenings to work on personal tasks, and putting it on the calendar with a reminder. So far, it’s working like a dream. I’m actually starting to make progress on some of these things and the more I check off, the more energy I have for the next thing on the list.

Using the calendar helps me stay grounded because otherwise, I come home from work, plop down in front of the computer, and get lost in email, blogs or Facebook. The chirp of the appointment reminder gets me refocused, and I can make sure I accomplish something and THEN take a break to catch up.

It’s not ideal, but I am moving in the right direction. I feel like I’m still learning over to share the steering wheel with the “stuff” in my life, but I’m slowing moving over to the driver’s seat and taking control.

With each thing I check off, I feel more settled and less out of control. And more clear-headed, which is a huge part of the goal. I want to clear my head so I can focus on what is really important like finding the mental space to look at life goals, purpose and more lofty ideas.

So now it’s your turn.

When your life gets out of control, how do you clear the clutter and start steering again?

2 thoughts on “Gaining control of the steering wheel

  1. Once again you have hit a sore nail on the head. A calendar drives me with the “ToDo’s” and I use to recap my day either task wise or like a journal. I am experimenting with

    • Oh, I’ve not heard of either of those options – I will definitely look into both. Thanks for the advice! And good luck too!

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