The Art of Doing
Stress and anxiety are often caused by a lack of organisation. Michael Townsend Williams has a 4-step plan
Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organisation, preparation, and action.
— David Kekich
We all like to think that the stress and anxiety in our lives is due to outside influences. Sometimes the whole world appears to conspire against us. The causes can be money, or the lack of it, our jobs, our partners, our children … the weather, the train, the traffic … our declining health, our computers, our phones … you get the idea. To paraphrase Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Stress is other people!’
However true this may appear to be, we don’t exactly help ourselves. We hop from task to task. We say yes when we mean to say no. We can’t find things when we need them. We forget appointments. We use our email inbox as our to-do list. We use our email inbox as our filing system. We can’t stop checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Medium, Tumblr, Google+ … OK, maybe not all of them. We get buzzes and beeps from our phones, our computers, our ovens and our dishwashers. Life itself seems to be out of control. Although the truth is that you are the one out of control.
One of the most powerful motivators for me was the clarity and peace of mind that comes from being better organised. Our minds are not designed to hold the amount of information that we expect them to cope with. Neuroscientists refer to our ability to hold stuff in our working memory as ‘cognitive load’. When we overdo it we get ‘information overload’ — we can’t think clearly, make poor decisions, feel stressed and the quality of our breathing drops.
‘But creative people thrive on chaos!’ I hear you say. ‘Organisation is for boring people.’ ‘I haven’t got time to get organised.’ ‘One day I will earn enough so I can pay someone else to do all this stuff.’
I know where you’re coming from. I too held these beliefs until one day I got so fed up with living in a state of stress, anxiety and not getting stuff done, I decided to learn how.
No one teaches us the art of doing. We are thrown in the deep end at school, somehow avoid drowning in university or college, and end up splashing wildly through our working lives. The emphasis is on results, not on how you get there. The solutions to our chaos are sold to us in the form of books, apps, filing systems and beautifully designed stationery and bespoke pens and pencils. And we consume them avidly. Alas, they offer only temporary respite. Because the only solution to us being disorganised is getting organised!
So if you are reluctantly accepting that it’s you who might need to change, you are on the right track. And it’s not only about doing more — by learning the art of doing you will also discover the art of being too. The following is a simplified approach that I have implemented personally and coached many others in. It is not a complete guide, but will give you enough to be getting on with.
CARE About What You Do
The simple framework that I use is to ‘C-A-R-E’ about what you do:
Collect your stuff
At present you probably have two or three email accounts, post arriving at home and at work, messages on your phone, messages on social media, voicemails on your mobile and your home phone (if you still have one), documents on your desk, scribbles on a notebook (or several), a pad with an important phone number (somewhere), business cards and receipts in your wallet, a draft presentation outline in your laptop case with notes from your last meeting, notes on your phone’s notes app, photos of things you think are cool and oh so many brilliant ideas in your head.
So let’s start the process by creating a simpler way of gathering new inputs into your life:
· Get all your email into one inbox
· Have one physical in-tray at home and one at work
· Carry a mobile in-tray (I like a zippy mesh folder thing)
· Have one notebook
· Use one app on your phone to collect stuff
Now turn off all notifications — yes, that’s right, all of them (OK, we’re all allowed one exception). No more badge icons on your phone with 2,000 unread emails, 43 missed calls, 17 Facebook alerts, 62 unread ‘read later’ articles.
No more vibrations. No more beeps. No more unnecessary interruptions.
Seize back control. You decide where your attention goes. You are in charge. If people you work with don’t like it tell them that you are doing it so that you can work, create and think better, and if they have a problem with that maybe they need to change! Get tough.
Arrange it systematically
It is very common that people on a mission to get organised get good at getting tidy but fail to maintain things. The reason is they don’t make decisions about it or have a systematic way of going about it. If you follow the simple process below with all the inputs in your life, all the time, it becomes a habit. You won’t need to remember what to do or even think about it — it becomes your way.
There are different ways you can keep track of your actions, make to-do lists and set up reference files. The key is to find a system that works for you, and stick to it. You’ll see that things will quickly become clearer, both in your outside world and in your mind.
Reflect on your workload
Every day look at your diary, your to-do lists and your email actions folder before you go looking for more work in your inbox. This simple reordering of how you start your day at the computer will put your agenda first.
Every week spend at least an hour having a meeting with yourself. Get your physical and email inboxes clear. Run through your commitments — your to-do lists, your projects, your diary for the next two weeks. And give yourself some time to look at the bigger picture, and review your goals and project plans. Does anything in your life need rebalancing? Are you working towards something that really matters to you?
Once your mind is clear and your actions are clear you can do what needs to be done with a lot less friction. You don’t need to think twice. You just need to do. Although it can take time to set up, once you have a system in place your work, your mind and your breath will work a lot more smoothly.
For more on breathing yourself better, click here for tips and videos from Michael Townsend Williams in collaboration with Lululemon.