“There is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way.” -Christopher Morley
For good reasons, most people do not excel at “no”. To blame is, for the most part, inadequate insight into the extent of one’s current task load combined with a healthy fear of conflicts. So, how exactly does one go about becoming a black-belt naysayer?
From whence tasks are bourne
Have you ever stopped to consider where tasks actually come from – that is, where they all start their journey towards something that may end up on a list for you check off? Momentarily overlooking the problem of a million potential delivery channels (e-mail, telephone calls, Facebook, texts, Twitter, IMs, voice mail – and the list goes on), most potential tasks can be derived as originating from the following sources: the society at large, family, work, groups of common interest or oneself.
Since tasks from several sources arrive through a multitude of channels in complete disarray and without context, it is – alas – seducingly simple to slip into a state of assumption regarding the unlikeliness of shackling such an unruly beast. This response, in turn, leaves the brain responsible for recalling what exactly a task is, where it came from, where it is stored, what to do with it, when to do it and how to do it. That’s ad minimum six recollection points for every potential task. Oh, and then there’s the whole issue of order of completion.
It’s rather disturbing when you start thinking about it, isn’t it.
An unlikely way of growing a pair
Assuming that the average person may have as much as up to 100 separate tasks (all with 6 or more recollection points) to handle on the immediate, day-to-day basis if everything is properly accounted for, how would you judge your ability to correctly estimate whether you are able to assume yet another task without being in complete control of your current task load? If your answer lies somewhere in between “it’s snowing down under” (no, not Australia) and “gee, I don’t think so”, well done.
Fortunately, there are better ways of managing tasks than relying on the old noggin.
To remedy the situation, however, look no further than the latin proverb “Sciente est potente”, which translates to “Knowledge is power” – and in this case, the power to say no. If you have clear definitions of your personal and professional goals, you will know how to shape your task portfolio so that every step brings you closer to the fulfillment of these. Accordingly, you will be able to argue clearly as to why a potential task does not belong in your queue, which will aid you in conflicts both external and internal.
You see, a fear of conflict typically stems from two things: evolution, which has cleverly wrought an intricate ecosystem in where risking life and limb is counterproductive to the proliferation of ones genes, and the more tangible fear of not being able to beat a specific opponent – whom may well outrank you in some way or manner.
If, however, you can explain expertly – or even prove – to a spouse, the chief of your local Outlaws chapter or your superior why this specific task simply does not belong with you, the chances of succeeding with a no suddenly increase dramatically. And here’s the gem of it all: realizing the effect of being able to do so repeatedly will increase the odds exponentially.
Call it the geek’s guide to growing a pair, if you will.
On misfits and the value of chasing opportunities
Remember; there are people who simply cannot say no because they are so excited by the prospect of doing something new and… well, exciting. If you have ever had a DISC behavioural assessment, these will be the people with strong scores in the D and I categories; people with drive, enthusiasm, ambition and optimism. In my experience, they represent a comparatively small part of the population – yet are perhaps among the foremost drivers of change as they do not let opportunities go them by, for better or worse.
There is value in that, too, despite the polarizing nature of such individuals – look around you, and I’m certain you will recognize a few of them in your immediate surroundings.Read More
There are two different kinds of stress: eustress and distress – or stress, if you will. If you’re suffering from this catch-all for the detrimental effect that arises from not being in control, you are in effect wearing stress goggles – which fundamentally and detrimentally distort your perception of the world.
You’re doing this to yourself
Little known fact: beer goggles and stress googles share an uncanny resemblance. Both have a tendency of distorting reality in ways that can easily lead to very uncomfortable wake-up calls, followed by traumatic fight-or-flight reactions. Naturally, we consciously decide to wear them both with the very best of intentions – yet somewhere along the road, things go awry.
To wear ones stress goggles is to approach the better part of ones day, whether in a professional or a personal capacity, compulsively checking mental gauges displaying a vaguely defined relationship between completed tasks and passed time. Also: a more-or-less omnipresent sinking feeling that you’re behind on things. Note the italics; they’re the important parts.
Those feelings are the symptoms of being out of control. If, on the other hand, you know exactly which tasks you have, their priority and the level of time, energy and attention required to complete them, you are in a position to make conscious choices about your actions.
In the latter position, your view of the world is akin to that of a predator: brimming with opportunities to be chased down. Reverse the tables to the first position, where you suffer from the effects of stress, and your perception reverses equally: you become the the prey; the hunted, with constant vigilance and pressure as your companions in life.
On several occasions, I’ve had people who have battled stress share in my sentiment of the world simply turning a shade of pallour under such conditions.
If you’re doing this to yourself, that means you can fix it
Fortunately, you have the option of declaring yourself dictator of… well, yourself – which is, at the same time, both exceedingly simple and difficult. Regardless: your first order should be to order the creation of a complete, external inventory of everything that used to be inside your head. And I do mean everything, as your brain is clearly not a storage facility. Once complete, this will facilitate the required clarity of mind to make solid, well-informed decisions based upon the resources at your disposal.
In fact, unless someone else demands you complete an undue number of tasks, this may be all you need to remove your stress goggles.
If, however, you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being overtasked, your second most important priority should be to reduced your workload to a sustainable level by any means necessary. This is the difficult part, as you might have commitments from which you can escape easily – at which point it’s time to make some tough decision.
Regardless of your situation, failing compliance with this step will only guarantee a less-than-ideal completion of your assigned tasks, accompanied by a slow yet steady deterioration of your energy levels unto the point where your mind declares bankruptcy. Believe me when I say that this is not a fun place to visit.
Do yourself and your loved ones a favour; remember that you possess ultimate power over yourself, and decide to take off your stress goggles. Life really is too short not to be enjoyed in full.Read More
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” -Herbert Simon
Have you ever noticed that advice for steering your life on the path towards success tends to focus on the big picture – as if though lofty, futuristic goals will improve upon your current situation? Granted, the the grand scheme is important, but a map which shows destinations but leaves out the roads is hardly useful.
Reality as we know it
The vast majority of us lead busy, fragmented lives with a multitude of responsibilities, commitments and desires which all extract a grave toll upon our attention. In a world of seemingly limitless to-dos, opportunities and distractions, it can be difficult to achieve a state where choosing what the very next thing to do is as effortless as pouring a glass of water.
And yet, the ability to do so is critical step to the process of simplifying ones life to the point where the big picture becomes second nature.
To have everything that is currently on your mind under control means to move from task to task effortlessly, being certain that one is performing the appropriate task at the right moment. If you can manage to do so, thoughts regarding the bigger picture will flow to the surface naturally, as your brain is no longer strained in an attempt to keep track of the daily grind.
To explain how such a state is achieved, let’s borrow a page from David Allen for a moment, whose GTD methodology states the importance of relying on a trusted system to store and retrieve all possible actions and reference material – with which I could not agree more, as our brains excel at quite different things than storage.
3 simple steps from junior scout to forest ranger
Structuring ones life, as with building a house, is a bottom-up affair: getting the roof up first would indeed be impressive – and an illusion. Such, also, is the case with lofty goals. What you need to get a proper view of the forest is a system for collecting everything that you need to make a decision about (whether now or later) or store for future reference, and that is secure enough for you to trust it whole-heartedly; otherwise, your brain will attempt to retain a copy. Which is bad.
Secondly, you need to process your system on a regular basis in order to categorize and prioritize what’s in it. Compare the difference between walking into a garage that has been used for band practice for the last 5 years and one that belongs to a mechanic with OCD, and you’ll get a picture of the level of transformation we are aiming for.
Depending on the number of items on your plate, processing the system can range from picking the three things that will make you survive another day to neatly organizing your reference materials on the art of muffin baking. The first rule, however, is to make sure that your system is capable of spitting out the very next task which requires your attention within a matter of seconds. When it does, the brain will naturally facilitate thoughts concerning the bigger picture, as it is able to trust the system you have created.
In essence, you have delegated yourself… to yourself.
Rest assured that steps one and two may require several failed attempts before the results are to your satisfaction – to which I can personally attest. Do not give up. When you do get it right, the reward is, quite honestly, incredible. And, when you complete the two first steps, you can move to step three, which is to remember the importance of quietude. Nothing facilitates big picture thinking quite like juxtaposing a trusted system with a distraction-free environment.
Hopefully, this will give you a foundation upon which to build your house of simplicity; I’ll be posting more about how to fine-tune such systems to make your life simpler at a later time. For now, I’ve got a little challenge for you: Collect a few of your best friends or co-workers, have them devise 15 cognitively challenging tasks, and have them visit you at random times throughout the day to insert these into your workflow.
Which do you think works best; juggling it all in your head, or inserting it into a trusted system which is primed for constant reevaluation? If you decide you have to try it out before resolving an answer, please do let me know how it goes.Read More