Mind like water

According to Miller’s Law, the number of objects an average person can hold in working memory without rehearsal is 7 ± 2. That’s not a lot. Any more pieces of information and newer items replace the previous content. Imagine, it’s only a Post-it note’s worth of information in an active, readily-available state. I get two Post-it notes, because my handwriting is so big.

All kinds of stimuli constantly battling for my attention on top of this serious RAM limitation and oh yes, I can become easily distracted. My mind wonders and it’s difficult to focus on the task at hand. Especially if the project is of a more complex nature. And with my sometimes excessively high performance standards, I have an exceptional ability to transform a simple action into an elaborate strategy. Suddenly, I’ve turned an assignment into something really uncomfortable and overwhelming. Maybe there’s something else I could do. Time to welcome my good ol’ friend Procrastination!

This realisation hit me during the ”Getting Things Done” training course I attended on Friday. Luckily, I got some practical cures, too.

We started by mind-sweeping. The trainer asked us to write down anything and everything that is making claims on our attention. Both at work and in our personal lives. Seriously, I thought! I’d need all day for that. He gave us 10 minutes. Commitments and promises to others, communications to make, and projects, not completed or yet to be started. It soon became evident that there’s a whole lot of stuff that I’m trying to track and maintain in my mind. Astonishingly, the list – a long one – was coming out effortlessly. No processing or planning was allowed at this stage, just a creation of an inventory of any open loops.

The next step was processing. Going over this entire collection of stuff that had been stealing my attention, distracting me, weighing me down. For each item, I had to make a critical decision about the next action. Merely the next action, not the ten subsequent steps like I usually do and turn the venture into something way too daunting to even start. For any project with more than one action, I needed to define a desired outcome. That would help me conclude when the project was completed. Done and dusted!

What just happened? All of a sudden, I had cleared my psychic RAM and converted all my distressing clutter and undefined stuff into nice simple next actions, allowing me to move on. Cheerio my former friend Procrastination and hello Clarity of Mind!

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