This article is not about improving personal productivity, efficiency, prioritization or organization so that you can get more done in the day. It’s about shifting the way you think about what you do each day so that you are less frustrated, more peaceful and relaxed, and generally speaking nicer to be around. To many of you, this article will make no sense, and if so, you are probably already naturally wired to think this way, as my wife is, for example. However, if you are a Type A, goals oriented, moderately self-motivated, driven personality, then this may be of some benefit to you. Be forewarned, your actual mileage applying this philosophy will vary if you are an employee, student, or have a job where you don’t control what you do each day. Entrepreneurs, remote workers, soloprenuers, freelancers, business owners, parents…listen up!
First, some background about how I came to this way of thinking which was foreign to me but nonetheless liberating. I’ve been very goal oriented since third grade. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s when I decided I wanted to go to the United States Air Force Academy and become a pilot. That goal guided my activities and choices each day for the next nine years. I was very task oriented in high school, but it wasn’t until I actually entered the Academy that every waking second became about accomplishing tasks just to survive. The Academy experience is all about giving you more assignments than you can possibly accomplish in a single day to teach you how you manage the stress, rely on a team, etc. I managed pretty well, but not near as well as my classmates. Nevertheless, I graduated and was off to an interesting but brief ten year career in the Air Force as an intelligence officer, recruiter, project manager and advertising guide. By the time I separated, I was excellent at organization, prioritization, efficiency and all those things you need to get things done in a stressful, mission-centered environment. I carried over that mindset to my professional design practice.
Sixteen years and six kids later, I discovered that my goal centered mindset of getting things done each day wasn’t working too well. I work from home, and we home educate our children. Not only isn’t there enough time in the day to get everything done to sustain a business, but keeping up with the family needs is near impossible. My days became a series of interruptions (try getting professional work done with a four year old in your space!) to the point that what I thought needed to be done each day just wasn’t getting done adequately. Hence a frustrated, grumpy, exasperated, dad and designer. I don’t relish being a curmudgeon.
I began questioning whether it mattered if what I was “supposed” to get accomplished today actually got accomplished today. In my job, no one dies or gets injured if I don’t get it done today. Very, very few things on my daily “get it done” list—whether I assign the task or my wife or my teenager—has to be done today or else. And I’m old enough now to understand my own personality and age limitations. Based on this, I came to the conclusion that I can only do in a single day whatever I can do, and I’m learning to be content with that. Some days, I get a lot done—everything falls in place. Other days, I may spend hours on an unexpected task just to try and get to the one I intended. And you know what? It’s okay. Roll with it. Accept the limitations as much as you can that the day imposes. Guess what, while you may not x,y,z as much p,d,q as you would have in your old “get’er done” mode, you won’t be as frustrated when things don’t go well. You’ll find yourself more “enjoying the moment” rather than trying to get to the next “more important” thing. Shifting your thinking pattern will put you and those around you in a different frame of mind througout the day as you practice it. I’m happy right now writing this article even though it took me two days with multiple interruptions to finish it.