Written by Paula E. Bird, copyright 2014
Occasionally my Monday mornings are an adventure to decide what to write about for a Monday morning post. Most often I have an easy journey. I sit down to write with a spark of an idea, and the words flow from beginning to end. Other times, I sit down and wonder if the words will ever come. Today is such a day. I sit here thinking and thinking, and so little seems to spring to life. Thank heavens I already have a plan to take me forward in moments like these.
Today is the first day after the completion of our spring break. I had busy bookend weekends with a span of five free days in between. I flew to Pennsylvania to visit my father and to see how things were going up there. My father will turn 82 next month, and I worry about the things that children worry about for their parents at that age.
Although I had a lovely visit, I used up my free time during this visit. I came home to find the same pile of things to attend to sitting on my kitchen counter. The same problems and issues that I left behind me when I boarded the airplane were there to greet me when I returned.
But what about your plan? you ask. Yes, that is right. Stay on track, I tell myself, although I also feel my mind tugging itself to skitter around. What do I do when I am faced with many things that need to be done and very little time to do it? I clean and organize, and in moments like these, I pull out my emergency plan.
This sounds so simple and perhaps trite, but this really helps. I am not sure where I learned this trick in the past, and I rarely use it (therefore, keeping it as a special trick), but this is the fastest way that I have discovered to clear my mind and set my sights on a fresh path in moments like these. There are some folks who might suggest that doing this is a form of procrastination, and perhaps there is some truth to that. However, I am talking about my emergency plan, and this is different than the usual cleaning and organizing that I would typically do on a daily basis. Be prepared to be surprised, because this emergency plan is simple and frightening in its effectiveness and how quickly the plan achieves complete clarity.
I take an empty box and I clear everything off my desk (or my kitchen counter, or my dining room table). I completely empty the surface of anything and everything. There! Now, I can sit down and begin my work, one thing at a time, one step at a time. I can deal with the box if I like, but later. Sometimes in the past, I find that things stay in that box, and after a certain length of time has passed, I find it much easier to deal with things in the box. Obviously if I have not needed anything in that box, then I should seriously attack the box, throw things out, or file/store the contents in appropriate places. Usually I find that I can quickly sort through the box later with a clear head and a box of file folders. I keep the box handy, mostly for its psychological value. If I know the box is nearby then it is not so frightening to put everything in it. For my desk area, I stow the box underneath the desk. Someplace nearby.
So there you have it -- my plan to bring a sense of focus to this moment in time when I feel overwhelmed. I am not worried that I will forget anything important because I already have my other systems in place for dealing with my "stuff." I have my calendar and my day journal calendar (my Smithsonian calendar that stays in my home for my husband to see and serves as a tickler file for important bills and reminders). I am careful to keep my calendar up to date. I have my to do template notebook, which I use pretty much daily (sometimes it takes me two or more days to complete one list). I continue to use my day's planning form (half hour increments). I also use Omnifocus for iPhone 2 to keep track of my life and my ideas. Siri helps me to stay on task with reminders, which also get loaded into my Omnifocus program. (For those folks who follow David Allen's GTD system, I highly recommend Omnifocus 2 for iPhone as a way to follow that system easily).
Despite all of these wonderful daily tools, I do find on occasion that it helps to have my emergency plan -- the empty box -- available for use.
The clear work surface reflects the clear mind. Now I have some room upstairs for ideas and creativity to spark and ignite.