This morning, I had a plan. I had a doctor’s appointment first, followed by several numerically-ordered ‘As’, as per the advice given by so many time management writers to whom I have been loyal for some time.
Unfortunately, the doctor directed me to the local X-Ray department after his inspection, which meant that all the other things got demoted and had to wait their turn. Still in numerical order, but now subordinate to the additional task.
Some people, some intelligent people, don’t cope with such a situation as well as perhaps they could.
Some may have resolutely declined and delayed the radiologist’s company in favour of their plan, thus (arguably) risking their physical health in avoidance of a mental breakdown caused because their plan was at risk.
Other people would have gone to the local hospital’s radiology department, bitching the whole time that they ‘have better things to do’ and would have to reorganise their day to cope with this health-focused deviation from their intended schedule.
Did I go nuts? Of course not. And the reason I did not go nuts is because I had an organised list of things to do, written down and ready for review when the interruption was over.
David Allen, author of ‘Getting Things Done’, says, “You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know everything you’re not doing.” In other words, part of the mental challenge of personal organisation and productivity is having the capacity to know – or be able to quickly and easily find out – what is important, what is less important and what is not important, so that constant re-planning of tasks is not a routine part of life.
If you have no written list of things to do, ideally prioritised in some way, then you are relying on your memory to hold an abstract list for you. Unfortunately, the brain does not have an indexing system as reliable as a ‘list’ – it bundles every thought in one giant retrieval system, yes, but you have to think about retrieval at a time when your mind is struggling with multiple thoughts and inputs just when you need it to concentrate on just on problem. You are creating the bullet points as you remember the ‘thing’, but the bullet point disappears as soon as your brain moves on. And the bundle contains not only the things you must do, but also a bucket-load of the ‘not now’ and the irrelevant, both of which get in the way of cogent thought on the Now. (Oooh, very Mindful.)
I recall a training session where a colleague said he didn’t have a list because he liked to be spontaneous. I suggested that his supervisor (present) might like him to know what was expected of him and for him to organise his priorities accordingly, after which he could be spontaneous.
Having an organised list or plan allows you to free up your memory for thinking creatively, proactively and in a less-stressed fashion. Not having a list/plan means making it up again and again as you go along, always playing catch-up with yourself while ‘yourself’ keeps running off at tangents. Like playing tag with a chicken – as Rocky Balboa.
But above all, having a plan/list means that interruptions – an inevitable reality of working life – can be dealt with consciously, competently, effectively and without the urge to punch a fax machine. (Yes, I did. Once. A long time ago.)
Keep your technology safe -make lists.