I consider myself a very productive person. I get a lot of things done. I’ve accomplished quite a bit. I’ve written two novels, designed many websites, worked on Alternate Reality Games for organizations like the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and The World Bank, maintain an active social, family, and most importantly spiritual life. I take care of my health with doctor’s and therapy appointments, meet weekly with my writing group, craft excessively, serve in multiple church callings, and blog now and then. My plate is overflowing, so let’s just say I’m up to some big things! However, to date, I’ve managed to do all this without any significant structured planning of my time on a day to day basis. Maybe you’ll find it impressive that I’ve gone so long without any sort of a schedule or plan, just doing what seem right in the moment, as it occurs to me. That’s code for “whatever task is stressing me out the most that second”.
Enough is enough.
I decided it’s time to try Getting Things Done in a more organized way. Conveniently for me, Getting Things Done or GTD, as it’s often referred to by its adherents, is a system for just what its name implies – getting things done. It was created by David Allen, and there’re plenty of resources in other locations where you can learn more about GTD. But for a quick overview, check out this infographic:
Getting Things Done David Allen Infographic
Once I learned about this system, and with some help and advice from others, I decided to focus on creating a schedule for myself based on GTD. The idea being I would now have set “Bucket Times” to manage all the areas on my life according to the principals of GTD. But I’ll get back to Bucket Times later.
The main problem I was facing with finding a system that would work with me was finding something I could stick with. In the past systems either were so cumbersome, scheduling and planning me so rigidly that I couldn’t realistically do it long term. Or on the other hand, the systems were so vague and abstract, focusing only on broad goals that they didn’t help me commit to anything. The third category of problem systems were ones that were incomplete, only addressing certain aspects of what I needed from an organization system and leaving me feeling semi-organized but ultimately even more overwhelmed. Why? Because now I knew exactly what I needed to do but had no structures in place to help me accomplish any of it.
To address of this, I there are 4 major components to my personalized GTD system I am putting into place initially. (This is just to get started. After these are going well I will add more.)
Identify 6-9 Major Areas of Life
Roles and areas are the major categories of your life such as Family, School, Faith, Friends, Work, Writing etc.
List 10 Most Pressing Tasks Under Each Major Role/Area
Most pressing tasks are tasks that currently need to be taken for that area. For example, for Family, it might be something like “Spend time with Mom” or “Game Night.” For Work, it might be “Sign the Parsons contract” or “Return Sonya’s phone call.” Any task that has more than two steps is called a Project.
Create A Weekly Schedule of Bucket Times To Stick To Each Week
Bucket Times are blocks of time designated at the same time every week for completing tasks in each of your Major Areas. For example, I created Spiritual Time every evening from 10pm – 11pm. During those times I will refer to my List of Tasks for that Area of Life for to do items to complete. See the Downloads Section at the bottom of this post for an Excel template tool to help with this!
Generate Mind-Dump Of EVERY Open Loop In Life
Open loops are thought processes that are incomplete. They keep the mind’s inbox full when it’s most productive empty. Empty that inbox by downloading everything in it! Generate a complete list of everything, every to do, action item, task, someday task, maybe task, goal, dream ,wish, hope, plan, etc. Include everything from “Remember to pick up the milk” to “Improve relationship with Dad” to “Travel the world”. Get that mind completely empty and onto something tangible and permanent that is workable for future reference.
Once I had a plan of action, it was just a matter of putting it into place…
Starting is always easier said than done.
I needed some help getting started. So I decided to enroll someone else to do this thing with me. No, not all of you readers! My dear writing buddy who I create my day with every morning. I told her all about his idea and explained GTD to her (the Cliff Notes version). She was on board.
Over Skype, we came up with our Major Areas of Life. This is mine:
Weekly GTD Schedule – Major Areas of Life
Next I began to list my lost pressing tasks under each area. I’m constantly working on my list.
Then I created a schedule by which I would process the list of tasks. But instead of a rigid list of strictly scheduled times like ones that hadn’t worked for me in the past, I am working with a schedule of Bucket Times. The beauty of Bucket Times is it structured enough in that it gives you a set time you are committed to making forward progress in an area of your life, but it is flexible enough that you still get to choose what is most expedient to do within that Area. Furthermore, the whole schedule isn’t so rigid that the whole thing risks being thrown off if you go over a few minutes. As I see it, if you get behind you are often still within your bucket time for that type of item. And even if you aren’t you can rest assured that you have more time scheduled for that item soon. So file add it to your Bucket Time list for later. Lastly, the overarching rule is that this isn’t a rigid system, meaning the operative work is: expediency.
When all else fails, do whatever is most expedient in the moment.
I am committed to using this new system for a trial of the next 3 months. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing an upswing in my productivity. And more importantly a decrease in my feelings of overwhelm at not knowing how to handle the overflowing plate that is my life. In this analogy, I’ve been eating off an overflowing plate for a long long time. Sure I’ve been digesting my food and getting nutrient, but lots of things haven’t been sitting well. GTD is a set of silverware – tools to help me eat my food, so that I can take small manageable bites and digest it easily and effectively. The schedule works like a restaurant menu (thanks Paul for that one!) with various selections for each category of food or area of my life. Some items or Tasks on the menu are more bland and others are the spice of life!
Give me a helping of work every weekday. Indulge in a double portion of friendship on weekends. A spicy side dish of romance if I’m so lucky! Pile it on my plate and enjoy a delicious, nutritious, and satisfying life!
Stay tuned for Part Two of this post series on Generating a Mind-Dump of All Your Open Loops coming soon! Get an email reminder when it comes out! Subscribe to the newsletter!
I hope you enjoy the Downloads below. The Weekly Schedule Templates for Microsoft Excel should be helpful tools for planning a schedule in the fashion described in this post. Please post comments with ideas for improvements, and I will do my best to make them.
Life is a noisy place. It often feels imposible to escape the noise of life. The traffic, the talking, the hum of electronic devices, cell phone rings, music blaring, Aside from the noise pollution, there’s even light pollution So many places there is so much ambient light that I can’t see the stars that surround me. Of course there’s ways to get away from all those types of noise in my life, but there’s a type of noise that’s much harder to get away from. The noise in my head. How do I escape the constant noise contained within my brain? Intrusions of thoughts and words and sounds and images that keep my mind so busy, that I it’s difficult to focus on what’s right in front of me. Distraction. Seemingly harmless most of the time, but in reality, potentially deviously dangerous. It’s scary to think what might be hiding amongst all the noise that’s right there, but, like the stars, just out of sight.
Sometimes I wonder if I keep all the noise there intentionally to prevent myself from discovering something about myself. But this isn’t something I’ve done on purpose. This is a coping mechanism. Keep my mind busy at all times and I won’t have to think about things that are painful. I won’t have to deal with the fact of having a chronic illness. I won’t have to recall vivid memories of time spend in the hospital that resulted in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I won’t have to address ways I often feel inadequate or unworthy of being liked or loved by others. I won’t have to be confronted by instances from my childhood. Instead I can focus on the noise. And in a way it works like a charm. It works so well I can go for months or even years sometimes without addressing something that’s deeply troubling me directly. But it comes out in other ways. All sideways like. But the noise is just a distraction. And all distractions eventually come to an end.
And now that the magic of the distraction has been lifted, I don’t have to just stand here breathless with the rug pulled out from under me. There are things I’m learning to do to help me dissipate the noise and deal with the underlying cause of that made me want to distract myself in the first place. With the help of a therapist I’ve been learning to process the emotions that led to the noise in the first place. I’ve been learning to differentiate that I’m not the same entity as the noise. Who I am is a divine child of Heavenly Father. I am so much bigger than these disempowering distractions that got made up to keep me from dealing with my real emotions. I’ve also been working on being present and getting in touch with how I am feeling in the moment. It’s important to notice everything around me until my thoughts quiet down. The thing that helps me the most is to turn in prayer to my Heavenly Father and ask for His help in dealing with everything I’m going through. Once I’ve done that I can finally start to take action and make changes.
It’s a slow process for me, but it’s well worth it. I’m tired of being distracted from what’s right in front of me and all around me. I want to see my life for what it is. All it’s blessings. Especially the stars.
Sometimes, despite my best intentions, strongest convictions, all my strength and will, all my hope and faith, commitment and passion… sometimes despite everything I am, was, and will ever be… sometimes things fall apart.
Sometimes it seems like there’s no putting things back together again.
The past few weeks I’ve had my fill of Humpty Dumpty moments. My emotions splatted out on the ground for the whole world to see. At first it was for seemingly no reason. Then, little by little the source of my tears began to bubble to the surface. Flashes of suppressed memories of my last three month hospitalization haunt me. I was in the ICU almost a month and I remember everything.
Yesterday was odd sort of relief at receiving a diagnosis.
When I got home from my doctor’s office, I decided it’s time to stop suppressing the pain. Putting a name to it is a good first step, but it was really time to let a little of it out. So I wrote this poem about the experience:
by Lauren Soffer
How can I speak when
The pain leaves me breathless
Tear drops unspoken
Defined by wounds unforgotten
A prisoner of my own head
Where darkness ends
My Savior carries me
Breathing each breath
As I relinquish my anguish
For His infinite love
Safe in His Eternal arms
I am found
Through writing the poem, in a tiny way I began the process of transformation. Turning something ugly into something beautiful. Turning my pain into strength. And with that I found a iota of peace in that moment. I am struck by the following scripture:
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (D&C 122:7)
I’m grateful to have the faith that hard things in life will all be for my growth and benefit. Maybe things fall apart because life is like a jigsaw puzzle: there’s no point if it comes already put together.
Conventional wisdom tells us that scars fade over time. But they don’t always fade on their own. Whether physical or emotional, diminishing scars is a process that takes work.
A few months ago I had surgery to have a two benign Lipoma tumors removed from my left arm. In the weeks and months since the surgery, the pain subsided but the scars did not. The scars grew hard, red, and puffy. Ugly reminders of the surgery. Every time I’d look at them, I was right back in the memory of all the pain and anxiety I’d experienced. Embarrassed at my skin’s imperfection, I wanted to hide them. To cover them up. But I realized that wouldn’t make them go away. Fading them would take time and effort. I started rubbing scar-reducing cream into them several times a day. The nerves under the scars are very sensitive, so rubbing them can be rather painful. But the combination of the massage and cream has started to soften and lighten the scars. To my surprise they are fading.
In thinking about my scars, it occurs to me that emotional scars are much the same way. When we face a trauma in my life, I am often left with emotional scars. If left to their own devices they can get irritated and raw. They can make me feel imperfect and embarrassed. I might try to cover them up and hide them only to find that they are just as present as ever. It’s only when I start to massage my emotional scars that they start to go away.
It’s painful to address my emotional scars in the moment. Touching that nerve sends reverberating pain up and down my psyche making me wince and want to withdraw. But I have to retrain my nerves. Exposure lessens the pain. Lightens the scars.
My Nightmares Collage
A raw wound in my life I’m realizing is the post traumatic stress I’ve been dealing with from spending time in the Intensive Care Unit twice in the last couple years. I’ve wanted to hide it. To put on a brave face and pretend that the scars from that memory didn’t exist. But that has only given the resulting nightmares more power. I’ve noticed that as I’ve started to talk about my experiences it’s gotten better. Though at first it was a raw nerve to talk about the memory of being unable to breathe on my own, massaging that wound has stimulated healing. I even recently collaged the nightmares that have haunted me from my time in the ICU.
My scars will always be there. Both emotional and physical. But overtime and with the proper care, they will fade. Until then, they are my battle scars. Not reminders of weakness but evidence of my strength. Of how much I’ve endured. Of being a survivor. And that will never fade.