Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Welcome to the Thriving Amidst Chaos blog: are you overwhelmed?

I'm pleased, albeit a little intimidated, to start this new blog about the concepts and practices related to personal productivity, organization, time management, and the like.  Dozens of wonderful blogs are available on these topics, but I believe I can offer a distinctive take:

First, I'm a scientist, interested in evidence.  How do we know if making lists really helps?  Is there a real difference between putting to do items on a list versus putting them on your calendar?  And so on.  Empirical evidence is currently scarce -  but my aim is to share with you whatever I find.  If you run across a study, I hope you'll send it to me.

Second, I'm a physician, interested in options.  My approach to clinical practice is to identify all the plausible options, lay out the risks and benefits of each, and then collaborate with my patient to choose a plan.  Every productivity problem has several possible solutions as well.  None is perfect for everyone, but one may be better for you.  I will never say "and you have to do it this way." 

You can read more about me here.

As I was thinking about this first post, I realized that when I encounter a new blog, nine times out of ten, after I read one post I never go back.

So I've decided to give you my most important advice now, in case you never come back: 

You must have an emergency plan for stopping "acute overwhelm."  

Acute overwhelm is that feeling of panic, breathlessness, paralysis when you have so much to do you don't know where to start.  It is a hopeless feeling, and does not lead to much good. 

You can get out of this state of mind using this three step plan:

Step One. Stop and take a deep breath
Bring your focus quickly back to this moment, using this method which has stood the test of time.

Step Two. Slow down.
This advice seems counter-intuitive. You are behind! You need to go faster! Help!   The problem with going faster is that you usually feel even more scattered, and then you feel worse. Slowing down is more effective. The effect is to block out everything past and future, and to help you focus on what you are doing right now.

Step Three. Complete a task - any task.
Randomly choose a task from your immediate environment and do it.  Then do another.  Soon you will be in rhythm, and you will almost naturally turn toward things that really do need to be done.

Next Steps.  Start using additional simple techniques that will help a prevent recurrence - read this essay Code O: Recovering from overwhelm for more.

If you come back, here is the productivity related content you'll find: 
  • Overviews of the "basics;"  calendars, to do lists, and so on
  • Links to advice from others
  • Book reviews
  • Evidence-based discussions of common recommendations.
  • Responses to your questions -- send them to susan@susanrjohnson.com.  I'll do my best to include all questions, although I may create a composite if I get several on the same topic.
I hope to see you soon.

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