Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mind Sweeping

I have become a devotee of David Allen, organization guru to the stars. Okay, not the stars, more like shiny sparkly high-power CEOs. I heard an interview with him on New Dimensions maybe two years ago, where he talked about what it's like to constantly feel like there's something important you should be doing but you're not sure what, or which of too many whats. He talked about focus, about how you either feel terrible about all the things you're not doing, or perfect about the one thing you are doing, and that in order to engage in the present, you must be clear and resolved about everything else. He says that a crisis is actually, in a way, less stressful than when there isn't a crisis, because, for instance, when you blow a tire on the highway, all the appointments and projects and decisions that need making go away. Suddenly, you can focus because there is clearly only one thing to focus on.

This was exactly what I needed to understand. At the time, I was still married to A~, between miscarriages, and torn between looking for full-time work (which I didn't want but felt guilty for not having, since A~ was working non-stop), writing (which I desperately DID want, but felt too depressed and too guilty to really apply my full attention), cleaning the kitchen (to please A~, since this was the one actual complaint about me that he could articulate), researching infertility (because supposedly this was the ultimate goal: to have a baby), and attending to my own mental and physical health. Strangely, this last one was also more for A~ than for myself. He seemed so put off by my unhappiness, and I was hyper-aware that he was not all that into me. No wonder I was miserable and unable to focus.

In his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, Allen advocates what he calls "mind sweeping," or getting all the "open loops" or incompletions in your life out of your head and onto paper, a separate sheet for each thought, without any attempt to group things or prioritize until you've swept out every cobweb and corner. I tried it at the time, but got overwhelmed by the growing tower of paper. I ended up throwing out the whole stack.

I'm trying it again now. Though the tower is twice as high, it feels good this time.

I've been going through the pages one at a time, entering items in my calendar, filing others for future reference. Every reminder for a phone call, for instance, goes into a file I keep directly underneath my phone, so that when I sit down at my desk I can browse through and make the appropriate calls. Random errands go in the "errands" file, grouped with paperclips according to where I have to go. Now, when I leave the house, I peruse that file to see if I can complete any of those tasks along the way. There is another file for chores to do online, others for books I want to read, things I want to do someday/maybe, and another for topics I've been meaning to discuss with J~.

We cuddled up on the couch the other night with that file, and it was actually fun. We made small but important progress, some of which was mundane (like, When is your appointment with the urologist?) some not so simple (Would we rather see a Reproductive Endocrinologist?) and some light-hearted (Let's try on the ice skates I bought you! and What do we want to do next weekend, when B~ is away with his Mom?) All in all, it feels great to be getting all this underbrush cleared away.

In the file of possible upcoming blog topics: A report about my appointment with the therapist (I've been twice now). More on step-mothering, and how I felt on parent-teacher conference night. My night out with the girls. And, this may seem off topic for the direction the blog has taken, but I've been meaning to write about abortion again, and the not-so-simple choice between surgical and medical (meaning with a pill) procedures. Oh, yes, and sending out a thank you to all of you who've left supportive comments over the past weeks. I don't always make time to say so, but I do truly appreciate it. And so does J~.


Sam said...

I need to do that so badly. I guess now, with my unemployed status, is a good time. It will be a good break between packing and job hunting. Yuck.

Krista said...

This is an excellent idea and something I need to do, too!

By the way, I just read your blog pretty much from start to finish a few days ago, and I must say, you have a very compelling story! After you finally answer the question "babies or not," you could totally make this into a novel.