With the new millennium a paradox has materialized: the quality of life has improved, but at the same time people are more stressed, because they take on more tasks than they manage to manage with the resources they have available.
Furthermore, the work itself no longer has defined boundaries: while in the past it was evident when a task had been carried out – plowing the fields, building a machine – today for certain jobs the boundaries are blurred. Information that could, for example, improve a search or enrich a blog page, may continue to arrive over time, requiring constant updates.
As if that were not enough, the new communication technologies have broken down the limits defined between our professional commitments and our private lives: being “always connected” for many translates into “always being at work”.
Having “a mind like water”
In the last seventy-two hours, most of us have been joined by a quantity of inputs aimed at producing changes, creating projects or changing priorities, far greater than what our parents received in a month.
It is no wonder that traditional time management and personal organization systems, based on the calendar, on the creation of priority codes and daily lists, are no longer sufficient. The ability to stay relaxed and focused while maintaining control of the situation requires new thinking patterns and work organization.
Focusing on objectives and values considered of primary importance is certainly a useful exercise. It provides the necessary criteria to make choices – even difficult ones – between a myriad of alternatives to select what we must stop doing and what, on the other hand, really deserves our attention. Unfortunately, the prioritization method no longer seems to work, due to two factors:
- too many daily tasks do not allow you to focus on wide-ranging goals;
- ineffective systems of personal organization create strong unconscious resistance.
In karate there is an expression that is used to define the state of perfect readiness: “having the mind like water”. Imagine throwing a pebble into a pond, how does the water react? Appropriately to the strength and mass of the object that hits it, it then returns to calm. The water does not react neither too much nor too little. The power of a karate stroke comes from speed, not from muscles, the secret lies in a flicker at the end of the lash.
Many pay too much – or too little – attention to things, do not act with “a mind like water”, ready to react exactly as necessary and able to quickly return to a state of calm.
What it really means to do things
To survive in these busy times, we must learn to “really do”, in order to release attention and ease the pressure. We are often overwhelmed with commitments that we are not managing properly, which we are tremendously aware of.
We suffer from constant concern for the things we know we have to do: many “should”, “could”, “would like” are relegated to our minds, ready to keep us under pressure 24 hours a day. These are precisely “internal commitments” , these things left in a stalemate, generating most of the frustration and stress; it is stronger than us: recent research has shown that it is very difficult not to memorize and not continually return to thinking about the issues that we leave open.
Unfortunately, this mechanism does not help us solve them, but rather distracts us from anything else we want or have to deal with, decreasing our ability to act.
The art of doing things is based on two fundamental steps: defining what “done” means, that is, setting the goal, and clarifying what “doing” means, that is, establishing what actions to take. To effectively manage the flood of commitments that you have made or are imposed on you, you must first of all “identify and intercept”, that is, write down every question that somehow requires your attention, clarify what meaning it has exactly for you and then establish the most appropriate way to act to resolve it.
Let’s see the step-by-step method.
This type of organization of activities is based on “horizontal” attention, it will serve you in most situations and you will get it by taking 5 steps:
- intercept all the things that require our attention;
- clarify its meaning and understand what to do with it;
- organize the results;
- reflect on all possible options;
Start by asking yourself: “When do I need to think about this thing, and in what form, so as not to think about it anymore?”, Remember to build a system so that it is functional, not just to have one: the more it respects your needs , your way of being, how much easier it will be to make it part of your way of living and working.
The tools you need to “intercept” are containers where you can collect both the things that come to your mind and the information that comes from outside. You can choose to adopt physical containers, use paper or audio media, emails or text messages.
The essential is that all outstanding issues are in a “container” external to your mind. You have to make sure that you no longer hear the inner voice that reminds you to make a certain phone call or pay a newsletter or complete a job. All these activities will be correctly scheduled and placed in the container.
Attention: it is important to have as few containers as possible for the incoming elements, and they must be emptied regularly.
When you empty the “inbound” container, you have to examine one item at a time and choose between three possible actions: