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How to Make Your Mind Like Water

Organizing your creative life in 13 weeks. Week One.

by
Sarah Hoyt

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July 6, 2013 - 7:00 am

Every Time I get interrupted, another hour of concentration swirls down the drain.

My problem, sufficiently described in other posts, is in fact a constant sense of always being delinquent on some duty.  It is like having four full-time jobs.  When I’m working on my contracted Baen books, I’m not working on my editing of my backlist to publish, I’m not working on short stories due various places, I’m not working on my indie novels where one is waiting revision and the other half-done.  And if I switch to any of those, the others nag at me.  I am constantly stressed and taking time off doesn’t help, because when I come back to work (and sometimes before) the stress pumps to the previous level or higher, because of more things left undone.)  This is before you consider my part time job of looking after the house and family.

Then add in the parts of my job I can’t control: when page proofs arrive; a question from my publisher that cuts my concentration completely; emergencies related to household management that cut my train of thought; an interview request; a request for a short story with a short deadline. All of these turn an overstressed system into pure chaos.

I read in the beginning of David Allen’s book that your mind should be like water and thought “mind like water” no problem. My mind runs through things and retains no memory.

Turns out that’s not what he meant.  He was talking about how water reacts to a pebble thrown in it.  How much force does it use?  Exactly as much as needed.  No more.  No less.  And then it immediately returns to the state it was in before the disturbance.

Allen says to manage this you must clarify your commitments; keep reminders in an organization system you trust and review regularly; break down your projects into bite-sized, manageable bits.

My problems in the past have come with: what good is it clarifying your commitments when new ones are constantly added; I have trouble trusting any system outside my head, because I’m given to losing notebooks; I have no issues with breaking down my projects into bite-sized bits, but then other stuff interferes and nothing gets done.

Another point Allen makes is to start from the bottom up: do not the most important bit, but the one you can do right now.

He emphasizes five stages 1- Collect all things you need to do; everything weighing on your mind, from, say “promoting individual freedom” to “buy lettuce” 2- Process what to do about them. For instance, promoting individual freedom is a reactive thing. When faced with a choice, I’ll promote individual freedom over top-down organizing.  It’s not a project I can do a bite at a time.  3- Organize the results of the above.  4 – Review options.  5- Do.

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I love David Allen's application of the martial arts metaphor to Getting Things Done. When we lower the mental/emotional tensions, we have much more strength/resiliency in our ability to get things done. There's a physical model for this kind of structure called tensegrity: invented by artists Kenneth Snelson in the 1940s and described extensively by Buckminster Fuller. High tensions work well for short amounts of time, but cranking up the tension too high works poorly for the long run. You'll see this theme countless time in "Getting Things Done", Allen's other books, and GTD resources by others.
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