Over the last few months, as I have been further developing the inaugural Productivity Incubator Workshop, I have had a heightened sense of my own productivity (or lack thereof) in any given moment.
I have noticed a very distinct pattern.
If I am “triggered” (something sets me off), my productivity plummets. I end up thinking obsessively about the issue, the thing that has triggered me, and I lose all focus on the task at hand.
David Allen, creator of the “Getting Things Done” systematic approach to productivity often refers to a “Mind Like Water” concept which, if mastered, provides an antidote to this very experience.
“Mind Like Water,” a martial-arts practice, refers to “a mental and emotional state in which your head is clear, able to create and respond freely, unencumbered with distractions and split focus.”
In this book “Getting Things Done”, Allen explains it like this:
Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding inappropriately to your email, your staff, your projects, your unread magazines, your thoughts about what you need to do, your children, or your boss will lead to less effective results than you’d like. Most people give either more or less attention to things than they deserve, simply because they don’t operate with a “mind like water.”
(For a great short article that further develops the “Mind Like Water” concept, go here.)
I figured out that I needed to be more aware of my “triggers” so I can process through issues more quickly and intentionally, and return to “Mind Like Water” more quickly. (NOTE: I’m not sure that I’ve ever officially experienced “Mind Like Water” but some moments are much better than others 🙂 )
So I developed three questions to ask myself in these trigger situations to facilitate processing through the issue. I have used these questions many times in the last couple weeks with much success in helping me expedite the process of diffusing frustration.
When You Are Upset, Hurt, Disappointed, Fearful or Angry…Ask Yourself This:
- What unmet expectation is causing my reaction to this situation?
- Have I clearly communicated my expectation to the parties involved?
- Is speculation playing a part in my reaction?
Your raw and candid responses to these questions will help you process through the offense you feel and propel you to a place of action towards resolution.
Here’s an example of how this works:
We have a rooster in my neighborhood. I assume that he belongs to my neighbor, two doors down, but I cannot be sure. What I CAN be sure of is that for the last month, he’s woken me up every night, sometimes at 1:30AM, but usually around 4AM. I live in a highly populated town-side neighborhood, by no means “keep-the-country-country” style, so the noise nuisance is (on my part, anyway) unwelcome.
I looked up on the internet what to do about roosters in town and learned that I needed to contact the Hawaii Humane Society. I called once a couple weeks back and left a message about the issue. I called again last weekend and left another message. I received a call back indicating that they no longer deal with this issue and that I needed to call the police non-emergency number.
So, three mornings ago, at 4:10AM, once again my friend, the rooster, crowed (incessantly!). I called the police non-emergency number and was told that I had to personally meet with an officer if I wanted to file a complaint. The dispatcher asked if I was available to meet right then.
I indicated yes at first and then no, concerned that my neighbors (whom I don’t know) would have an issue with me if I reported them. The dispatcher then said that I could meet the officer elsewhere in the neighborhood but reiterated that they would not address the issue at all unless I had a personal meeting. I was discouraged, upset, angry, and just really tired from a number of days in a row with poor sleep.
I advised that I’d call back later. The day had me fuming. I remembered about my three little “talk yourself off the ledge” questions, but I was too stubborn and fired up to make use of them.
Midday, I ran into some old friends who I used to work with. I shared my frustrations with them and one of them, Chris, had some great insight. The rooster very well could be feral. He shared that he has both feral chickens and roosters in his neighborhood as he lives near the mountains.
In fact, he had a neighbor come over screaming at him that “you really need to get rid of those chickens.” Because the chickens were roaming in his yard, the neighbor assumed they were his. They weren’t…
Chris explained to me that even in town feral roosters can hang out…they pick a fave spot, like a mango tree, and roost in it every day about the same time. (Apparently my guy likes between 4 and 4:10AM., but I digress…)
He also mentioned that different people are affected differently by the sound. I am a light sleeper and wake up quite easily. He, on the other hand, could have the rooster crowing right outside his window and would likely not wake up.
What if I was assuming? What if the rooster in my neighborhood was/is, indeed, feral and comes around each morning to woo my neighbor’s hens? What if the rooster was actually my neighbor’s but they keep their windows closed and air conditioner on at night so they aren’t really affected by the noise.
After talking with Chris, I put the rooster situation to the test of my 3 questions.
When You Are Upset, Hurt, Disappointed, Fearful or Angry…Ask Yourself This:
1. What unmet expectation is causing my reaction to this situation?
- I expect that I’m going to be able to sleep in peace at home, which by all other accounts, is a total sanctuary for me.
2. Have I clearly communicated my expectation to the parties involved?
- I haven’t told my neighbors (if, indeed, the rooster is theirs).
- I haven’t told my landlord (who lives next door), who could potentially facilitate communication with the neighbors and who may have additional insights on the situation.
- I haven’t told the rooster (at this point, our relationship is a bit fractious…I’m just saying, plus, I’ve never officially seen or met him yet!).
3. Is speculation playing a part in my reaction?
- I assumed the rooster was my neighbor’s and not feral.
- I assumed my neighbors were aware of the noise nuisance.
- I assumed my neighbors were being selfish and didn’t care about my being disturbed.
- I assumed the neighbors would not be receptive to my sharing my concerns with them personally.
So as you can see, the old adage, “when you assume, you make an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘me’” just may be at work here. 🙂
After processing through the rooster issue using the three questions, I realized that I was basing a lot of my position on speculation. I simply hadn’t gathered enough information to objectively assess the situation. I decided to talk to my landlord and his son to get their take on the situation and, as needed, enlist their help.
I also decided to make some adjustments on my end, to control the things that I have control over. The last two nights, I have closed my bedroom window at night, put on my air filter (which makes a white noise sound), as well as put on my aromatherapy diffuser (which also makes white noise), using–fittingly–the “serenity” blend of oils. 🙂
Guess what? I haven’t heard the rooster! I know he’s been crowing as when I wake up at 5:30AM and open my window, I hear him loud and clear. And, per usual, he keeps crowing until about 7AM.
As I’m typing these words, it’s mid-afternoon (about 3:30PM) and the rooster is crowing yet again. But this time, it doesn’t bother me. In fact, there’s something slightly endearing about it.
Now, the sound represents a situation resolved. The rooster continues to crow, but I have taken measures to ensure that it doesn’t affect me or my sleep. I may take additional measures down the road, but for right now, he and I are simpatico.
How does this relate to productivity? As you can see, I allowed the crow of one lousy, potentially feral rooster to suck up a lot of my time, energy, and mental processes over the last month. This was on ME, not the rooster! He was just trying to score some hens. 🙂
These kind of triggers are a major hindrance on productivity. Rather than “Mind Like Water” you experience “Mind Like Mud.” You’re stuck in negative thought patterns and it’s nearly impossible to make any progress on your projects or simple day-to-day activities.
Don’t let a rooster burn up precious time and energy in your life like I did. When faced with a frustration, use the three questions to process through it. You’ll feel better physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually, and your productivity won’t suffer!
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