Sunday, July 26, 2009


I've really been struggling in the last week or so with all of the different projects I've got going on, feeling very overwhelmed and stressed. I do not like this feeling. Not one little bit. (In case you were wondering.)

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about one of the most challenging aspects of parenting for me: the inability to complete tasks from start to finish. Even when faced with the quickest, easiest task in the whole wide world, it's often impossible for me to get a guaranteed completion WIN every time. I include such tasks as Completing a Coherent Thought, Getting a Drink of Water, and Walking Upstairs to Get Something.

I've been spending more time than typical in the last few days, thinking about my tasks, and prioritizing them. I'm still following the GTD plan (even though I can't find my book--I think I lent it to someone), and I use OmniFocus on my Mac Mini and my iPhone to help me keep track of the things I need to do. GTD is a great strategy and OmniFocus is a great tool, but I still lacked a sense of task completion.

But then I realized that perhaps I'm looking at this task completion thing all wrong. I think part of my stress has been coming from the fact that I have many Big Projects going on right now, and I simply need to revise my expectations of myself. And I know that I really do complete tasks--look at how often I manage to post something! But since I have several really big projects underway at the moment, I'm really feeling as if these projects aren't getting completed. Which is, of course, perfectly true.

So I think I've I found a better way to get that sense of accomplishment I crave. I will continue to track the things I need to do and projects using GTD/OmniFocus. And I will set myself a daily manageable goal to complete just one little task toward at least one of my own personal larger goals, and I will consciously mentally connect that little task to a larger goal.

I know. It probably sounds as obvious as it looks to me. Because it is obvious. Only, I hadn't been doing a good enough job of tying in my daily tasks to my Big Goals. And I noticed that if I think about a particular task--"Hey, this Little Thing here means I'm a little closer to This Particular Goal."--well then, I feel as if I've taken a big step forward, which is progress, which leads to--yep, you guessed it--a Feeling of Accomplishment!!!!!

I've been stuck in Forest Land for the last few weeks, dreaming big and coming up with grand long-range plans. The problem is, I forget to visit the Trees. Many people have the opposite issue of "can't see the Forest for the Trees." I myself tend to get stuck in the bird's eye view, and then flounder (to mix my animals a bit) around, not knowing where to start. To mix metaphors in a further and not-very-PC way--a good start to clearing a forest is to cut down one tree at a time. :o)

So I have a list of my big, leafy, foresty goals, and thanks to my GTD/Omnifocus habits of listing out trees to be knocked down . . . (I'm sorry, but once the metaphor got in my brain, I'm stuck with it for a while--I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay!) . . . combined with my new mental exercise of thinking about my Larger Goal as I'm doing my Little Task . . . anyway, I think I can feel as if I'm making forward progress now.

And this will help me deal with my interruptions in a much better frame of mind. If I can do One Thing toward One Goal every day and you know, be aware of it!--and I think this is a reasonable expectation--then I'll be okay.

Here's to noticing the ridiculously obvious!


Burgess Laughlin said...

Repeating a statement of the obvious -- and necessary -- is a step toward automatization. Once I have my hierarchy of highest values and tasks automatized, the review process -- Where am I in the process? What bite-sized action item is next? -- comes easily to mind.

The main steps of my quick review process are:

- What is my ultimate purpose in life? Happiness.

- What are my highest values? My work (central purpose in life), my friends, and my favorite leisure activity. There is a fourth category: Necessities, such as buying groceries, attending dental appointments, and so forth.

-What task do I need to do next to achieve each of my three highest values or looming necessity?

- Is that next task defined narrowly enough that I can do it in one sitting (or trip or conversation or other action)?

- If so, do it!

Without automatizing that quick hierarchy, I would be lost.

Having a computer program (LifeBalance) to keep track of the myriad individual tasks helps too.

Jessica said...

Sewing has actually been a wonderful way for me to learn this very thing...goal achievement one baby step at a time.

I used to lose patience when I'd sew, because, quite frankly, it can be exceedingly tedious. It's fiddly and hard to do, and a lot of times the instructions are kinda vague about how to actually do some of the harder facets of the task. So, in the past, I'd cut corners to finish, and press on to the next easy part, and each time I'd do that, it would result in a fail - sometimes a little fail that no one but I would see, and sometimes a fail so big that the project would have to be scrapped.

Nowadays, when I sew, I have a whole new attitude about it. I want to do it right, without cutting corners every time I hit a roadblock, and I realized that sometimes in order to do that I just have to walk away from it, put it down, and come back a few hours or even days later when I am fresh.

In this way, I can still finish my project without burning out on it or ruining it. I've realized and accepted that I DON'T have to complete it all in one go, and that even the smallest progress still gets me closer to my goal.

Kevin McAllister said...

One thing that helps me do exactly what you suggest, contextualize my daily accomplishments, is keeping an engineering notebook. I write essential summaries of everything in there. I follow, as Cliff Stoll put it in _The Cukoo's Egg_, "The astronomer's rule of thumb: if you don't write it down, it didn't happen." Of course I know how hard this is with little kids, or needy co-workers around, so I'll not that I've also had similar success integrating accomplishments with the broader context with a daily "good things" log.