With so much to do in a day, it's important to accept the fact that for most of us, our in baskets will never be empty. I picked up a book a while ago called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (not a bad title) by David Allen. While it was not explicitly focused on mindfulness as a means to get things done, it seemed to have that flavor.
One thing he wrote about that I absolutely resonated with and that I write about at times is that unless a task has somewhere it can be put in the mind, it's going to continually swim around in there leading to greater stress, overwhelming sensations, distraction and procrastination. In other words, a golden rule is that the mind needs to know there is a plan to get a task done or revisit it. The mind can then calm down a bit more and focus on the task at hand.
Here are 3 things I've learned from my own life and the book that have helped me be more effective:
- Do one thing at a time -- Choose one thing to focus on whether that's your email, making calls, working on an important project, listening to a loved one or washing the dishes. Make this the focus and choose a period of time you will engage. Just like many of the writings I have done here, when the mind gets distracted (e.g., television, unimportant emails, surfing the web), notice the distraction, let it be and gently guide your attention back to what you're intending to focus on in that moment.
- Stick to a two-Minute Rule -- This mainly applies to emails, but could apply to other things as well. The idea here is that if it takes under two minutes then just go ahead and get it done. If it's going to take more than two minutes then this leads us into tip number three.
- Set Reminders -- When tasks come up and they are going to take more than two minutes, they need a place holder. So set a reminder in your calendar and carve out a time to get this done. If it is something general that you don't have to get done, but you want to be reminded of it anyway, set a general reminder to consider this later.
When the mind feels like tasks have a place and time, things start to settle down and it becomes easier to focus on what is most important. This helps us be more effective and efficient with most things we need to get done.
Part of the beauty of this all is that you can also be practicing mindfulness at the same time; the idea of being present with what you're doing and working with the wandering mind. When your mind or behavior wanders, rather than buying into the self blame game, see if you can just treat it as a distraction, and realize that it's just the way the mind works. Compassionately guide yourself back to the task at hand.
Slowly but surely things may start to feel lighter and you may start to feel better about yourself.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Originally published on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy at Psychcentral.com. To read more of Elisha, visit his blog, Mindfulness and Psychotherapy at Psychcentral.com, or subscribe here. You may also find him at www.drsgoldstein.com.