David Allen writes “An ambient angst pervades our society – there’s a sense that somehow there’s probably something we should be doing that we’re not, which creates a tension for which there is no resolution and from which there is no rest.”
That sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? Do you feel scattered? Pulled in many different directions and not sure where to go? Do you feel overwhelmed with work or tasks and aren’t sure where to start? Are you stuck on a level of Candy Crush and can’t seem to move on with your life?
Today I want to talk about focus.
With so many things out there competing for our attention, how do we know what to focus on? How can we possibly get the right tasks completed in the best way? Is it possible not to feel the ambient angst when we have so much to do and so much to remember?
Our brains can remember things. That is part of your brain’s power and talents. But while your brain is remembering, it’s NOT able to do something else that it was designed to do like dream, create or plan.
It’s like having someone with amazing talents for playing the piano and having them sort laundry for a living. It would be like taking your greatest skill and telling you that you had to do something boring and mundane where you wouldn’t get to use it. Sure, you can do the boring and mundane but you could you generating a lot more value using your talents differently.
So, getting back to your brain… What would happen if you took all the stuff you’re trying to remember and got it out of your head? Do you realize that in the past 3 days, you have received more change-producing, priority-shifting, and task-creating data than your parents received in a month or maybe even a year? The human brain has not kept up with the rapid increase in the amount of data it is supposed to process.
So, what can you do? Today I want to give you a few tips on how to better control your thoughts and manage all of the data you process. I want to help you find peace of mind in everything that you do and lower your ambient angst.
Step #1: Quiet Your Mind
If you could quiet your mind, that alone might relieve some of the angst, right? Let me give you two ways that you can quiet your mind. These 2 ways are going to require practice. (Yes, I’ll even show you how to find the time to practice.) I promise you that these methods -at least one of them- will work for you. They will help you quiet your mind or at least slow it down.
- “Awe“: I want you to think of something that causes you to feel awe. Maybe it’s the amazing colors, the pinks, purples and brilliant oranges, painted across the sky at sunset… maybe it is watching a child experience something for the first time or simply giggle. Maybe, if you are spiritual, it’s imagining your God walking through the door into your room. In those first moments of the experience, what are you thinking? In that initial moment of awe, and sometimes those moments following, your mind is completely still. You can feel the ahhh in the awe. The cool thing about this approach is that you can imagine that experience over and over and over again. The more that you practice it, the longer the experience of awe and stillness will last and the more control you will exercise over the angst-causing noise in your head.
- “I wonder what my next thought will be.“: Wonder can produce the same silence. Do this… get to a comfortable place and into a comfortable position and then say to yourself “I wonder what my next thought will be.” Then, wait. At first, you might only be waiting a millisecond before you recognize the next thought. As soon as you recognize a thought, don’t linger there, dismiss the thought and say it again… “I wonder what my next thought will be.” And, wait. Continue creating these moments of stillness and you will see that they become longer and longer and longer in length.
Note: Your brain may have just said, “Traci doesn’t understand my life. I’m so busy, I don’t have time to do this.” I don’t mean to sound rude, ~Contact.FirstName~, but your brain just lied to you. That’s OK, though, because you can choose another thought.
If I may, I’d like to help… Are you “busy” when you are in the shower or tub? Are you “busy” when you’re on the toilet? OK, OK, yes, you are physically busy but those are things that you’ve done for years… they are habits and require no conscience thought to complete. The next time you’re on the “pot” take a few moments to practice one of these techniques. Drop the magazine and practice wondering what your next thought will be. The next time you’re in the shower, practice awe or wonder. You DO have time for this!
Take the time to experience the stillness that is possible for your mind.
#2 Do a Brain Dump
OK, now we want to experience this stillness outside of the bathroom and take it into the boardroom. (Remember it’s the stillness that we’re talking about here. 😉 Since you don’t need your brain to remember everything, dump it!! Just to be clear, dump the stuff not your brain. All of the “stuff” that you think you have to remember – DUMP IT & CAPTURE IT!! Don’t use your amazing brain power to do something that a pen and paper or application on your computer or smart phone can do.
Dump it all. Sit down for 20 minutes or 2 hours – whatever it takes – and get all of your commitments, to-dos and ideas onto a piece of paper or into a system that can remind and remember for you. I just started using Nozbe:
I selected this tool because it syncs across multiple platforms (Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, iPhone and iPad). It allows me to keep all of my tasks with me wherever I happen to be. If I’m at my desk and make a commitment, it goes into the system. If I’m out of the office and have an idea, I capture it in Nozbe. If I have an email that I need to address in the future, guess where it goes? Yep, into Nozbe. I want to make my decisions only once – and when I have the time and energy to make them. Do you have emails in your inbox that have been there for longer than a month? WHY?!? Is it something that you just like to keep processing and reading over and over and over again? (That sounds like it would cause you angst.) If you want to try Nozbe, there is a free trial for 30 days. Try it!!
Dump everything that you are supposed to remember into this app or another like Omnifocus (which runs only on iOS and Apple products) OR use a small notepad or Post-it putting one task, idea or commitment per page. Get it out of your head and into a system that you can review regularly.
#3 Organize & Categorize your To-dos & Commitments
Now that you have them all out of your head. Organize and categorize them. If you have calls to make, you’ll want those reminders handy when you’re near a phone. If you have to do things online, you’ll want those tasks handy when you’re near your computer. If you have errands to run, you’ll want to have those all in one place.
Get your ducks in a row by sorting your tasks, ideas, and commitments. Create categories for your to-dos so that you don’t forget them when you can actually do them. Put a system in place to free your mind. It is soooooo worth it.
#4: Don’t Multi-task
What?!? That’s crazy-talk! Isn’t work ALL about multi-tasking??
No, it isn't. Your brain is only capable of focusing on one conscious thought at a time. (Yes, it can switch rapidly but that leads to inefficiency.)
Keep your mind focused on one thing at a time.
If something pops into your mind that's off task, dump it in to your system for later processing and get back to the task at hand.
When it's time to do your brain dump, don't do anything else. Sit down and start dumping.
When it's time to organize and categorize your tasks, just work on that.
Your brain is an amazing machine. It can help you make tremendous progress toward your goals and dreams when you learn how to use it better. You can do, become, and experience much more of life if you use it to generate and create the greatest value.
I want to encourage you to take the action steps above.
Clear your mind of the trivial things that a system could do so that you can use it to create a wonderful life for you and those you love. Experience the stillness of peace, wonder, and awe so that you can open your mind and use your brain to create the business, career, and life that you desire.
You can do it! I believe in you!
I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below and share with your friends.
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Some of the information in this newsletter was adapted from this terrific book by David Allen.*
*Sometimes I might recommend a product or service for which I receive a small affiliate commission. I promise that I will only recommend things that I use or have used in my life and career from people and companies that I admire.