This is a Community Contribution from April Perry.
Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. Not because I can’t process all the tasks, projects, and goals on my plate, but because I keep forgetting that I only have one plate.
As I’ve applied GTD strategies to my life, opportunities to “live the life of my dreams” have literally exploded in front of me. My website is growing, creative ideas are spilling into my colorful assortment of spiral-bound notebooks, friends and associates are jumping on board to support the vision I’m helping to create, and my family life is exactly what I always hoped it would be.
However, along with all this excitement, my emails have quadrupled, my project load has significantly increased, and my stress level has been rising beyond my comfort level. (Once you experience “stress-free productivity,” there’s no going back . . . .)
So today I decided to apply the Natural Planning Model from GTD to my overall life plan. The point of getting organized isn’t to simply “get more done.” The point is to get the right things done–and that takes some serious decision making.
I figured that as long as I’m doing this exercise, I might as well document the process and share it with others who also might be trying to cram too much onto their plates.
Step 1: Defining Purpose and Principles
This was a fun one. I got out a blank sheet of paper and wrote at the top: “If I were to feel thrilled about my life each day, what would it look like?” I know this list could go on and on, but I tried to keep it simple, basically entailing things like having a healthy, clean environment, building strong relationships, spending my time on meaningful projects (that can only be done by me–delegating everything else), nurturing my mind, body, and spirit, and living a life filled with purpose.
Step 2: Outcome Visioning
As I looked over the list from Step 1, I started envisioning how this “new life” would be (and how it would not be). For example, I pictured our closets and cupboards containing half as many things as they currently do. I pictured my children happily completing their responsibility charts. I pictured our family going on more walks together, cooking new recipes in the kitchen, and snuggling together for story time and bedtime. I imagined myself responding to emails twice a day, when I could actually sit down and process them calmly (instead of rushing through them whenever I had a free second in the kitchen). I also pictured myself breathing more, smiling often, and feeling more deliberate about my daily routines.
Really seeing these things is empowering.
Step 3: Brainstorming
With this vision fresh on my mind, I started seven small mind maps–encapsulating all the actions and characteristics I want to translate into habits.
The seven mind maps (for my specific needs) were as follows: Spirit, Environment, Routines, Recreation, Relationships, Power of Moms, and Other Pursuits.
As I did this, an interesting thing happened. I started to see how a few basic changes would transform my entire life.
I need firm boundaries. As a mother who is working on lots of projects from home, it’s enticing to squeeze work into every open minute. I need more space in my day, and that means keeping “extra” work separate from “family” work.
I need to be deliberate about making time to read and think. That’s what fuels me, and when I stop doing those things, the person inside starts to die.
I need to delegate or defer as many projects as possible. There are some things that can only be done right now–like making podcasts with my children, photographing their childhood, recording what I’m learning about motherhood, and building a family that I adore. A lot of the “urgent” things can wait.
Step 4: Organizing
Here’s where I took all those principles, dreams, and brainstorms and translated them into a very doable list. I first identified eight components of my “ideal” life. As I prioritized them, I realized that half could wait awhile, so I put them onto next month’s trigger list. I also realized that the four remaining items were the essence of my stress. (Kind of fun to figure that out.)
Step 5: Identifying Next Actions
Before placing these four items onto my “Current Projects” List, I identified my Next Actions and put them on my context-based list. It is one of the most liberating things in the world to see a broad, theoretical plan become something doable and focused.
This week, I don’t have to think about every little thing I’ve ever wanted to accomplish. I simply need to keep my work hours within predetermined slots of time, spend 30 minutes moving those “I’ll-sort-someday-but-these-really-belong-in-the-office” boxes out of my bedroom, take 15 minutes to research a landscaping company, and invest one hour evaluating my Routines and Responsibilities List. That can be done.
Not everything in life can be controlled, and there’s no way I can plan for every single distraction or opportunity. However, GTD has helped me realize that I can create the life I’ve always wanted–even if I DO only have one plate.
April Perry is the mother of four children and co-founder of www.powerofmoms.com.