Back at the end of March I mentioned that I was busy trying to get my mind organized, and guess what? It's actually happening!
Some incredible things have been occurring around here. First, you know The Pile of papers you have on your kitchen counter/desk/table? The Pile, containing bills you've already paid, flyers from the kids' schools, junk mail, coupons you might want to use, kids' artwork, greeting cards, etc.? Well, mine has disappeared. It hightailed it out of there a few weeks ago and hasn't been back since. And no, it didn't migrate to one of the other piles of paper in my office or stuffed in corner somewhere- as a matter of fact, those are gone too.
They're ALL GONE!
And the best part is that this doesn't feel like a passing phase- you know how you start some newfangled "program" and you stick with it for a few weeks or months and then you just kind of gradually slide back into your old habits? I don't think this is that because it hasn't felt like work. To be honest, I've barely noticed I'm doing it. Once I set up my system it just kind of started...happening. My system replaced The Pile and now when stuff comes in I know exactly where it goes and I put it there. Because I would really like to know where it is when I need it (and not spend fifty million hours searching through The Pile).
Flyer about an event I might want to attend next month? I write a note on my calendar with a *T* and put the flyer in my Tickler file (12 folders labeled by month for things I will need at another time during the year).
Notice about a project for one of my kids? I put it in their project support cubby. Same with son's Scout stuff.
Bills go in bills folder.
Relief Society lesson schedule goes in my Relief Society support cubby.
A place for everything, and everything in its place. Hallelujah.
If any of those things trigger an "I need to..." thought in my head, then I add it to my Next Actions list.
Oh man, is that list important.
If you would like to enjoy this same sense of freedom inside your head, I suggest reading "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" by David Allen. Today I wanted to share with you the first two keys to this awesome system. Here's what Allen says about the first very important key to this freedom: Capture.
"Do you understand yet why getting all your stuff out of your head and in front of you makes you feel better? Because you automatically renegotiate your agreements with yourself when you look at them, think about them, and either act on them that very moment or say, 'No, not now.' Here's the problem: it's impossible to renegotiate agreements with yourself that you can't remember you made!
"The fact that you can't remember an agreement you made with yourself doesn't mean that you're not holding yourself liable for it. Ask any psychologist how much of a sense of past and future that part of your psyche has, the part that was storing the list you dumped: zero. It's all present tense in there. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you should do something, if you file it only in your short-term memory, that part of you thinks you should be doing it all the time. And that means that as soon as you've given yourself two things to do, and filed them only in your head, you've created instant and automatic stress and failure, because you can't do them both at once, and that (apparently significant) part of your psyche will continue to hold you accountable.
"But what are all those things in your in-tray? Agreements you've made or at least implicitly accepted with yourself- things you somehow have told yourself you should deal with in some way. Your negative feelings are simply the result of breaking those agreements- they're the symptoms of disintegrated self-trust. If you tell yourself to draft a strategic plan, when you don't do it, you feel bad. Tell yourself to get organized, and if you fail to, welcome to guilt and frustration. Resolve to spend more time with your kids and then don't- voila! anxious and overwhelmed."
So once you've captured the stuff, you've implicitly promised yourself you're going to do something with it. Like when your mother-in-law digs up some plants from her garden for you to plant in yours. You agree to take them, which means there needs to be a next action- planting them in YOUR garden. Otherwise, every time you pass by them still sitting cockeyed in those flimsy little black plastic pots on your porch they will drive. you. crazy. (I know this from experience.)
Doing something means you must employ Key #2: Decide on a Next Action (and capture it- write it down).
"You'll invariably feel a relieving of pressure about anything you have a commitment to change or do, when you decide on the very next physical action required to move it forward. Nothing, essentially, will change in the world. But shifting your focus to something that your mind perceives as a doable task will create a real increase in positive energy, direction, and motivation. If you have truly captured all the things that have your attention...decide on the single very next action to take on every one of them. Notice what happens to your energy."
Here's a perfect example from my life:
Just the other day, I noticed that a flyer had somehow escaped my capture process and had ended up on the white board calendar in the kitchen, held hostage there by a magnet. As it flapped in the slight breeze from the open front door one morning, I realized it was bugging me because I hadn't made any decisions about it. The flyer was for an ice cream social yearbook signing party at my kids' school. My son wanted to attend the party. I had already put the event on the calendar, but the flyer wanted me to DO something, and it was going to be there flapping in the wind until I DID it.
What the heck did it want me to do?
Well, when I read it I discovered that there were two things:
1. Sign up to volunteer to help out at the party. Seeing as I would have 3 other little ones to deal with at home (I was planning on having a neighbor take him to the party) this was a no-go.
2. Bring something for the ice cream- the assigned item for the 5th graders was cherries.
I made myself think for a moment. A decision must be made: Do I want to contribute cherries? Sure, I could do cherries. I decided I would do cherries and wrote it under "Errands" on my Next Actions list. While I was at it I put "Call Shari about taking T to party" under my "Phone Calls" heading.
I took another look at the flyer and noticed that it only needed to be returned if I was volunteering, so I tossed it into the trash. Ta-da! Flyer dealt with. Done.
A few days later my husband had to run out to the store for a few things for a project he was doing and asked if I needed him to pick up anything while he was out. "Why yes!" I said. "Here's the list." I jotted down everything under "Errands" that could be picked up at the store he was going to, including cherries, and handed it to him. When he got home I placed the cherries in my son's backpack and that was that. It was off my brain.
It is decidedly lovely to get things off your brain. Especially if they're as trivial as cherries for an elementary ice cream social. Yet, when we let stuff hover around in there- dumb, unimportant stuff (our brains can't differentiate the dumb and unimportant from the essential and important)- our minds don't function so well. That stuff shows up at the most inconvenient times- when we're trying to write, when we're trying to sleep, when we're trying to spend time having FUN with our kids.
So today, my dear Mormon Mommy Writers, I would like to encourage you to CAPTURE all that stuff floating around in your head and in your environment (flyers and whatnot) and make a NEXT ACTIONS list based on decisions you make regarding those things- what needs to happen next? Those two simple things will start to relieve a lot of pressure in your head.
And then go read "Getting Things Done." Because it's awesome.