The summer has raced by at epic speed. I don’t know why, but I am always amazed and shocked when August announces herself. While I have come to terms with the fleeting qualities of spring, autumn and winter, I never quite believe that summer passes. And when it does I always get a tiny bit frantic.

On Saturday, a friend commented that I had this spazzy energy about me, like a juggler desperately spinning way too many plates. I am sure you know that feeling too. I was spinning way all these plates, while hopping on one foot and, having dropped quite a few, I was dancing around to avoid cutting my tender feet on the shards of the broken ones that lay strewn all around me.

One of the luxuries I have given myself this year is a week of stay-cation, strategically placed the week before we go away and right before school starts again. It is a week to focus on nothing but catching up, cleaning up, looking up, dumping out, digging out, sweeping out, starting fresh, starting over, just getting started. It officially started on Saturday. But my friend knew that I was in no place to start such a week. It was true–I had a bit of deer caught in the headlights kind of look. Too many things to do–too many things on my mind. I would start one project and then look at the dishes piled high in the sink. I would start to clean the dishes but then think I really needed to start a load of laundry to maximize the time. In the first hour or so of my “Week of Productivity”, I thought I would never get through the day, let alone the week at all without making myself crazy.

But then, the answers came.

They came because I was reflecting on the spazzy, plate spinning voices in my head. The ones who keep it all going, my 47 things, for better or worse. These mental to-do list spurting gremlins reminded me of those people at meetings. You know the ones–the ones with really important contributions who insist on being heard at exactly the moment when their idea takes everyone off track. The ones who you love to have in your meetings for their creativity and their persistence, but you hate to have in meetings because they move the meeting farther and farther from its goals.

The key to managing these people (and my gremlins) is I think we all know–acknowledgement. At work, we use the old facilitator’s trick of keeping “a parking lot”–the big piece of paper where we can put the stuff we need to get to–just not right now. There is something magic about writing it down. It creates a kind of peace. We are heard and so we can stay focused.

I am whispering what I did this week here to you, just in case, you know, you feel this way too sometimes. I swear its magic.

1. Take one day to drop all the plates. Plan nothing. Let everything fall. Visualize them falling, smashing, it all coming apart. Don’t rush, don’t do on the anything on the “to-do” list unless you must for personal safety of you or your loved ones. This is important to start the reset button. Its OK, I promise.
2. Visit with people you love. Eat good food. Soak in the sunshine.
3. On the next day, take out a piece of paper and a pen. Write down everything you think you need to do, no matter how small, no matter the priority. Don’t edit the list. Don’t categorize. Don’t make it neat. This is the parking lot this is where you place everything that might needle you all day. As you write down each thing, imagine yourself, actually placing it in a basket to be dealt with later. Promise yourself that one by one these things will get done, no matter how long the list. If its here on the list, it is safe.
4. Fold up that piece of paper and put it and your pen in your pocket.
5. Start one thing on your list. When your mind starts in with the to-do list ask yourself if it its already on the list. If it is, tell yourself its on the list, you can let it go. (If its still bugging you write it down again). If its not or you are not sure, take 5 seconds to write it down, imagining it safely going away, out of reach, into the basket to be taken out in due time. Get back to what you were doing.
6. When you are done, cross that thing off and then pick another thing to do.
7. Anytime the “to-do” gremlin comes to call, acknowledge him, write her ideas down quickly, without editing or categorizing and then get back to the issue at hand. Write down anything that comes to mind. Appointments (lab work done Tuesday 8:30), phone calls (call Kaiya, call Erica, call Max’s dr to set up appointment), things to pick up at the store, anything that is distracting (remind Max to find the flashlight when he gets home).
8. When you have no more space on the paper, get a fresh sheet of paper. Write down the things you still have to do. Leave out the things that you have already done. You can get rid of duplicates. You will find that after a day or so, the gremlin has fewer and fewer ideas. If she hasn’t slowed down, thats OK–you can staple another sheet of paper to this one.

So far, this has (I think) made me more productive. More importantly it has made me sane. We will see the final results at the end of the week.

One Response to “On spinning plates and peace of mind”

  1. Trish Says:

    Bought my Mother’s Plunge ticket. Looking forward to celebrating your birthday together. Contact me via email and we can make plans what you are up for that weekend while you are visiting with A.