I'm finding that a few minutes of reflection from time to time goes a long ways.
My natural tendency is to get into motion, to take action, to do things. But, I'm starting to see that I jump on trivial and mostly useless stuff sometimes for the desire to be in motion.
I was doing a review of my last week, and I came to a pretty amazing conclusion. If I'm working on big, important stuff with deadlines, the maintenance and day-to-day stuff naturally fills in the cracks, and things are good.
However, when my highest priority is maintenance/fill-in-the-cracks type stuff, I don't get as much done. Surprisingly, when I have less to do, even the little stuff doesn't get fully done.
So I'm starting to realize - just jumping into action without reflection isn't always such a good thing, unless it's clear what the most important thing to work on is.
It's tricky, because two of my largest projects are in a holding pattern. I've got no deadlines/deliverables for them right now, I'm waiting on other people to get back to me.
I didn't really anticipate this happening. My most time-sensitive thing to do right now is to reply to all my email and get the inbox to zero.
Of course, that's not particularly inspiring, nor does it feel particularly important. (I mean, it is important - it just doesn't feel important.)
I'm sitting in a cafe here in Kuala Lumpur called "The Coliseum" - really cool place, built in 1920, very 1920's feel to it. I'm not sure what I ought to be working on. I have a dozen things I could do, and I was just sitting and thinking for 15 minutes.
At first, I thought - huh, that's no good, I'm burning 15 minutes just thinking.
Then I reconsidered. Wait a second, that's exactly what I should be doing. Thinking and sorting out what the most important stuff is, and then getting on top of that. Then, inevitably when I'm busy, I'll reply to all the emails when I'm taking breaks from the big stuff.
I like being in motion, like taking action. When I'm idle and not explicitly relaxing, I go a little crazy. But now I'm realizing - no, sitting and thinking is exactly the right thing to do when it's not clear what's important. That's good time that should be embraced, not bad time to be fought. Otherwise you risk running the hamster wheel for a while.
Want to hear one of the strangest things I've found by time tracking?
Often, a really big and important task will only take 20 minutes of time to do when I sit down to get it done.
The thing is, it's not really 20 minutes. It's 20 minutes of action, after already spending three hours thinking about it over the course of a few days.
But it dawns on me - the hardest part of many hazy tasks is figuring out what to do. Almost any time we look at a hard task, our mind runs through the quick options and makes a decision.
A lot of times, we leave things alone if there's no great action to take. But, that means we're probably duplicating the thinking part of the effort many, many times.
I always write about habits after they're done, but I thought that it would be interesting to write about one before it starts, to get really specific about the actual process of creating a new habit.
For my entire life, I've been messy. Battles were waged over my unwillingness to keep my room tidy as a kid. My RV is very easy to clean, but somehow my four forks and spoons live in the sink instead of their drawer. Even when I stay with friends while traveling, where I know it's extremely important to be respectful of their space and keep my stuff as low-impact as possible, I find myself being careless about leaving power cords and shoes around.
A useful first step towards changing a big lifelong habit like this is to build up a healthy contempt for your previous execution. This isn't self loathing or anything like that, just the attitude where you say, "This is completely unacceptable and ridiculous."
I remember about two years ago when I went to the dentist, I asked her what the most important thing I could do for my teeth was. She said it was flossing every day. I already knew that, of course, but I asked the question in a subconscious hope that she would say that it was something I was already doing. At that moment, I thought, "How insane is it that I'm unable to just floss my teeth every day, and that I need to ask a dentist for some justification not to do it?"