Sep 15, 2010

Take Five #1: Get Some Perspective

I'm a deliberate person. Not many things happen to me by accident. I'm very honest with my self about the decisions I make, and the actions I take. It is very rare for me to see something that is out of my control, but when I do I'm very conscious of the fact that if I apply myself then I might still affect the situation.

I've been this way for as long as I can remember, and over time I've developed personal systems that have kept me disciplined. I apply these systems to a variety of challenges, both personal and professional. One thing that has always worked for me is making lists. Such a simple thing, but doing this really helps me digest a problem, and come up with a plan that I can apply.

Now, lists can get really long and intricate, turning into mind-maps or outlines, and those can take you down rabbit holes, on to possibilities and solutions you never considered. This is a great method  for problem solving, but it takes time and the ability to stay focused on the problem at hand without straying to far from the source. One way I've learned to break things down is by using a little system that I call "The Hand."
How the Hand Works
Every problem, project or task can be broken down into smaller, digestible pieces. Pretty simple. Gridlock often happens when an individual gets overloaded, and the tasks merge together into an undecipherable mess. What I've learned to do is find the five things that I know I can accomplish and then commit them to memory, just like counting numbers on my fingers. By limiting myself to five I can quickly recall the plan of action that I've put in motion, and set benchmarks for myself to help me make sure I'm following through. This method gives me a gauge to measure my actions against, and at it's simplest it helps me figure out where to start, and where I'm planning on finishing.

To give you a basic rundown of the way I do this, I thought I'd share one particular list that I use to help me start my day. I've used this one for several years, and it's honestly turned into kind of morning ritual for me.
Starting the Day
I've worked very hard to develop a strong mind. This doesn't mean that I think I'm smarter for it. What it means is that I am very aware of what's going on in it. I watch my thoughts carefully. I determined that I didn't want to live a life unaware, so to develop the awareness that I sought I had to first wrestle with my own inner workings. Over time, using the Hand method, I developed a simple outline that I try to work from each day.
  • Roam: I start each morning by allowing my mind to wander, letting thoughts arise as they will, at the same time being very aware of the content. It's hard to do this without controlling them, or allowing one to dominate. This is an excellent exercise in self-awareness. It allows you to sort of be an objective observer of you own inner workings, without forcing thougths into creation, or trying to control the ones that do arise.

    • Reconcile: It is inevitable that some thoughts will be stronger than others. Allowing the mind to roam is the place to start, but reconciling the thoughts, and trying to make sense of the stronger ones is important. I compare this to allowing your eyes to adjust to the dark. Eventually what you're looking at will make some sort of sense. This is where I concern myself with the "why" of what I'm thinking. If a thought arises more than once perhaps it is a track that should be explored.

      • Review: After I've made sense of my roaming, I review the thoughts to see if any of these thoughts were worth writing down? This is where I make a conscious decision to question my own thinking. Not every strong thought is worth bringing out of the mind and into the world. Should I say it, share it, or take an action? Sometimes the answer is "yes", but other times I decided to wait another day to see if the thought recurs. This is a fantastic exercise in self-discovery, where I am able to literally see what is important to, or consuming me.

        • Resolve: Once I've decided that a thought is valid and worth exploring further, then I write it down. I make a note of it, or capture it somewhere (these days it's more likely that I'll put something like this in an Evernote file for quick access). At this point I am saying to myself that this thing is important, and I am committed to doing something about it. Writing it down somewhere strengthens my personal resolve to take action.

          • Right Action: I come up with a plan. Whether these morning reflections are life changing, or simple things, I figure out what my first action step should be. What is the one thing I can do to set a wheel in motion so that these thoughts become things. What good are these thoughts if they don't change you, or your life? Taking action can help make something tangible that we can put our hands on, generating a very clear, physical result. Sometimes the right action is to take no action at all, but rather cultivate more awareness on a particular thing. Of course, the right action could be to come up with another "hand" list for a particular thought. I find this is often the case for me.
            This Hand exercise could also be done at the end of day, especially when the mind in loaded with new information. I personally prefer to reflect in the morning after I've had a chance to sleep. Sleep really helps my mind file away the garbage. If something is important, then it will resurface, and by "roaming" and being aware I'll be able to identify the important things.

            I hope you enjoyed this Hand list. I'd like to hear your thoughts, so please take a minute to coment. I plan to share more "Hand" lists in the future, so if you liked this, then let me know.
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