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Monday, July 3, 2017

You, Your Multiple Tasks & the Rest of Your Life

This project requires climbing the mountain of my own resistance.
     “I’m very sorry,” the man said. “I just didn’t have time to do it.”
    Not so. He had time to accomplish whatever it was. He just did something else with the time, something quite likely less important than the thing he didn’t get done. He’s probably not really sorry, either – that’s just the customary formula we use when we’ve slipped yet another expectation.
     It happens so often it’s largely automatic: Quick promise, steady flow of other stuff, failure to deliver, passing regret. Maybe another easy promise. Move on, hoping for better luck next time.   
     It’s not a matter of luck. Intention is discretionary and elastic. It’s your decision, and you can change it whenever you want.
     Time is neither discretionary or elastic.
     We talk a lot about time management, but that’s a conversation empty of possibility. You can’t manage time. We mere humans don’t get to change the ticking and tocking of our experience. It is a wasteful diversion to speak of it as if we can.
In truth, rather than managing much of anything, most of us are too often mere passengers rather than drivers in our personal cocoons as we slip inexorably through our allotted segments of history.
     Our periodic efforts to take the wheel often are characterized by superficiality leading to failure.

     For instance, you can become 20 to 40 percent less effective. Just try multitasking.
     Not only will you shortchange the several different activities you’re trying to do, but you’ll also frustrate yourself and irritate your working relationships.
     Remember when you were a kid, and would contest with your friends as to who could rub his/her head in a circular motion with one hand while patting the stomach with the other hand?
     I don’t know about you, but I never could keep it going properly for very long. One would start mimicking the other, or would just dissolve into some awkward wobble.
    Some kids did better than others at this, either because of better coordination or extra practice. Wonder what would have happened if, for them, we had added a third simultaneous demand: Say, reciting a poem, or reading one aloud.
All the people who nowadays study how the brain works tell us it simply won’t multitask. It tries to switch rapidly from one focus to the other, inevitably losing content and control.
     Rote routine can sometimes roll right along for a while as you do something else, say sorting laundry while talking on the phone. But if a sock is missing you’re likely to lose track of the conversation.
     And autopilot doesn’t work for anything that demands thought – especially creative or analytical thought. Now you must invest focus and concentration, which require time and conscious effort.
     Serious people have serious expectations of themselves, and the key to success for them is regular attention to the three Ps: Planning, Preparation and Priorities. 

     The priorities of our intentions are set in two main dimensions: accessibility and importance – both of which we can address through planning and preparation.
     Accessibility, in a way,  is easy. In fact, it often (usually?) sets itself. If you discover that the building you’re in is on fire, your priority is to get the hell out of there. That’s an easy decision about how to use your time at that moment.  No deep thought or detailed planning/preparation required.
     In general, our daily routines take care of accessibility for us. I get up in the morning, shower/shave, eat breakfast, launch my normal activities, do my job, chat with co-workers, make schedule arrangements, attend meetings, do errands and the chores . . .
     Now, THAT’S accessibility. You spend the day on autopilot, then you go to bed. Day accomplished. In short, the closest, quickest, most  prefabricated decisions slide smoothly into the “just-do-it” position.
     This works so well that messing with it is a serious matter. Doing so will disrupt the comfortable progress of your days. It requires decision and consistent discipline.

     Changing your own behavior is the hardest thing you’ll ever attempt. You may assume that all those low-value moments of your days can easily be occupied by new positive activities.
     Wrong! The low-impact/low-value hours are embedded in your essential feelings about who you are, what you do.
     Try it. You’ll find out. If you’ve done the New Year’s Resolution thing, or just made a  firm resolution some grim night or gray morning, it just sets you up for a grunt-inducing push and a sad collapse. Happens all the time. I’ve done it a lot, and maybe you have, too.
     So how do you reliably add a new behavior? If you are going to have really productive days, and make measurable progress toward the outcomes you want in life, how can you do that . . . realistically?
     First: Progress comes from the conscious effort to get clear on importance – what it is you want to accomplish beyond the routine.
     You have to sit down and think about it. You have to pop up out of the regular flow of your days – and sometimes that seems to be the hardest part of it all. Do it! That small act can start a life-changing progression.

     Make up your mind, then, to ignite a whole new chain of thought.
     Here’s how: Make it a project. Structure the project around three Ps: Planning, Preparation and Persistence.
     Successful projects start with clarity of purpose – that’s the basis of the planning part. What exactly do I want the outcome to be, and why? Since this project requires climbing the mountain of my own resistance to behavior change, I’ve got to build a pretty good list of motivators.
     Planning also requires thorough examination of the positive and negative factors that surround this effort – both within yourself and available among your associates and circumstances.
     High in the risk assessment is that personal reluctance of yours. What specific actions will you take to gin up energetic action toward the goal? How will you keep it going long enough to really get somewhere? Intention is one thing, continuing specific execution is distinctly another.
     Peter Drucker said that you may think you’ve made a decision, but you actually haven’t done so until measurable action is going on in the real world. So your plan must generate concrete, visible activities that produce real results.

     There are a couple of very basic considerations here.
     Your planning must specify  the preparation steps as well as what you’ll be doing to implement them
     And, besides your individual activities,, what understandings and arrangements must you think through and settle with your family members, friends and professional associates?
     In every area of your daily life, you must connect with the long term, ensure positive effects on your relationships, and think in terms of immediate action as well as intention.      

     We can create our own accessibility, and we can favor our life goals over the ease of the routine life.
     Nothing discussed here will give us more time than we’ve ever had. We don’t need it.

A QUESTION: Has raw willpower ever worked for you in achieving a permanent change in your own behavior? Or not? Tell us about it.


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