Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Road Better Travelled

A winding road

We start our journey in life full of desires but with no idea how to achieve them.

We want to reach things, so we learn to crawl. A desire to reach for something higher motivates us to stand and then walk. Once we’ve mastered running we do quite well until, one day, we find we need to go farther or faster than our feet allow.

Then come the tools. First a bicycle, then a bus, and soon enough we are driving. We can now go so much farther than we could unassisted. Your feet just aren’t much help for a 50 mile commute to work.

The same is true in how we manage our lives.

When you are little you can keep your whole world in your head. You grow more independent as your mind expands. But eventually there is more to remember than you can handle. More things to do than you can track. How you learn to overcome this limitation can shape your life for some time to come.

Some people may have naturally made lists. Some found they could use mnemonics or memory triggers to help. Others may have just gone with the flow; deciding that important things will find a way to be their own reminders and letting other things fall through the cracks.

Where are the tools?

There are standard tools for real transportation, such as bikes and cars. But for traversing the landscape of all the things you have to remember and do in your life there are no standards. As close as we get are the appointment calendar and address book. This leaves us on our own to discover new ways of moving through life’s tasks

Where is the education?

Here in the United States we have Driver’s Education classes in High School. We are all prepared to physically go places, but not to manage our own life. It is assumed that you will figure something out in order to handle the demands of school and work. But how many people could be doing so much better if they were at least presented with some ideas for how to handle life’s busy demands?

Many of us were not shown good examples of how to manage life so we have had to re-invent the wheel. I have a feeling that many people are still operating on the equivalent of a horse and buggy. Sure it’s better than walking, but it’s hard to keep up in the 21st century.

Self reflection

Take a good look at your life.

Think for a moment about your daily life.

  • Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed?
  • Are important things not getting handled?
  • Do you have goals that you can’t seem to accomplish?
  • Are there nagging thoughts running around your head or do you have that feeling that you’re forgetting something?
  • Do you procrastinate?

Many people can identify with at least some of these. Perhaps you identify with them all, or it is mainly in your home or work aspect of your life. It is common to be on top of your work life but when it comes time to go home you just don’t have the energy to keep it all as well managed.

There is a solution out there. And you can do it for free.

There is no quick fix for these things. I’m not trying to sell you anything. All it takes is time and a willingness to learn and try new things. There are books you can get from your local library and most systems can be handled with pencil and paper.

I can tell you that it is worth the effort. I know this from experience.

My road better travelled.

For a long time I was a horse and buggy life traveler. In school, clear through college, my system was to keep everything I needed to do in my backpack. Anything else would just sit on my desk until I got around to it. This worked well enough to get by, but it involved too much work to see if I was on top of things. It can be easy to overlook “read chapter 4” at the bottom of a page of notes. Due dates would often sneak up on me. I never felt on top of things.

I no longer had my backpack when I went to my first job out of college. I just kept to-do lists on my work computer. Home tasks rarely got as nice of treatment. Later when doing consulting work, I had to be a more organized about projects. For me that meant more detailed to-do lists, usually one per client or project. My horse and buggy had gotten faster.

My clients were happy with my work, but I noticed my stress levels were higher as notes were sometimes missed until uncomfortably close to when they were needed.

As an avid reader I eventually found a book called The Now Habit by Neil Fiore and it helped me understand habits that were slowing me down.

Later I discovered Getting Things Done by David Allen. It deeply resonated with me. I have now read GTD numerous times and found new subtleties each time.

Even without a fully implemented GTD system I felt as if a rock had been lifted from my chest and I could breathe deeply again. It took time, but the better I got with my GTD system, the better I felt. It’s hard to notice how much weight is on your chest when it has been built up slowly, one stressful pebble at a time.

How do you travel in your life journey?

Are you a horse and buggy or a sports car? Are you happy with how you manage things? Even if you are on top of things, are you stressed out? It is hard to see how much better things can be when you’re used to something less.

Now this isn’t about comparing yourself to some productivity superstar. It’s about improving. It’s about feeling and living better. We may always feel like other people are much more productive than us, but we don’t hear about all of their mistakes.

Do some research and find a system that sounds good to you. Ask your friends or coworkers for suggestions. I recommend GTD of course, but there are many systems out there.

If all it cost to get a new car with cruise control was some time to read and reflect, wouldn’t you jump at the chance? My car is GTD and I love it. Is it time for you to go car shopping?