Whenever I am having a hard time getting my thoughts in order and managing all of the competing priorities running through my head, I know it is time to sit down with pen and paper. Writing in my journal has always been a good way for me to sort things out, but sometimes I just need a great big sheet of blank paper and some colorful markers.
Today, I took my youngest son and his friend to a local fishing spot and sat in the back of my car to do some serious thinking on paper. I had a beautiful view, a bottle of seltzer water, and a bag of licorice. What more could a girl want – other than a soy latte?
As with my journal, I try to not pre-edit what comes to my mind before I write. This is the best way for me to get all the things running through my head out onto paper, so I can look at what I have to say and sort through to find patterns and clues which will lead to a productive course of action.
I try to start with the end in mind and think about where I want to be or what I feel I need to be focusing on – for example: work. From there, I write down all of the other things I am spending time on – like searching for a sphere chandelier, planning adventures, doing projects around the house, blogging(!), playing tennis, doing laundry, etc.
My method for dealing with these very important, but not always productive “distractions” is to “routinize” or “neutralize” them.
In the category of “routinize,” I would put tasks like laundry, cooking, food shopping, tennis, and making time to focus on work. For instance, I have a pretty good system for laundry, but depending on the time of year, it needs a little tweaking. I still want to play tennis, but if I can set myself up with regular games, I won’t have to spend so much time responding to emails and making plans to play. Food shopping can be “routinized” as well as “neutralized” by getting back to my weekly Peapod online grocery delivery service. Shopping for food this way is well worth the small delivery fee in exchange for the hours of time it saves me. I can also “routinize” the things I like to do – like blogging and searching for a sphere chandelier. I try to “routinize” those sorts of things by giving them to myself as a reward in the evening or after doing other, less fun, things.
I love using markers to make sense of my notes and make my plans. I do love plans.
In the category of “neutralize” I would put things that can be eliminated altogether or seriously minimized in some way. For instance – stressing out about my garden. I have decided to just stop worrying about it. I am done. The bunnies can have it this year. Also, I usually try to clean my house by myself in the summer (hopefully with the help of a few kids!) but this summer I am working a lot more, so I have decided to keep the cleaning lady coming twice a month. I can also see that my laundry might be “neutralized” if I could do a big purge of kids’ clothes and eliminate extras and things they have outgrown.
There are always trade-offs. I try to carefully select where spending money will give me the most benefit. Nothing is perfect and my systems are always being refined. I love my big sheets of blank paper where I can unload all of the worries running through my head. There is always a solution if I look hard enough. Seeing everything on paper just makes it easier for me to manage.
How do you get yourself focused?