April is usually an intense time of year for me on all fronts – A busy time for me at work, for kids in school, for the house and yard, for my spouse at work, and with many family birthdays. Except for last year, when April merged into the flatness that was the COVID shutdown, I have to go back at least a decade, and maybe several more, to find an April calendar that wasn’t a wall of items.
Of course, this year there are several more layers added on top of the usual because of COVID. Everything listed above is still going on, but COVID adds at least one more layer of complexity, and several to this week in particular. It’s exhausting and overwhelming, but I know it’s not just me. Almost every Zoom meeting I’ve attended for weeks started with a general acknowledgement of exhaustion by all.
Times like this are especially challenging for me, and I think many of you, because I take decisions seriously. Some might say that I am an over-thinker, and not in a good way. However, I like my goal-oriented analytical tendencies and see it as a super- power that helps me be the person I want to be and get things done. I will concede, that it can occasionally get in my way and the constant scrutiny can actually slow me down and wear me out. I have been working for a while to be more mindful and to learn new skills to help me have more balance in my approach to making decisions. COVID has been very helpful in that department.
The uncertainty of these times has helped me let go of thinking too far into the future about what I need to do now. One of the mantras I have been repeating, sometimes every 15 minutes it seems, is “What is the next step?” I learned that from David Allen in his book Getting Things Done. The book offers a very specific process for productivity and many tools, but what resonated with me the most was the permission not to think through every little thing. Know what you want to do, identify what you need to do next to work to get there, and then do it. You don’t have to worry about the step after that, because as long as you know where you are going, that will be clear when you get there.
Apparently, I need lots of reminding, because I recently discovered another productivity expert and her process that has reinforced that message. Lisa Woodruff’s Sunday Basket system, which I heard about in the MMA Productivity and Time Management member community, is based on the idea that you focus on what is right in front of you and give yourself permission to set many things aside and figure them out later.
The two different approaches still embrace goal setting and planning, which are both central values for me, but they cut out the part where you try to see into the future and think about things you can’t really know about. It has been such a relief to let go processes that didn’t seem to take me anywhere.
I have really been languishing through this month. At work and at home, I am starting to experience what I think of as the After Times with more commitments and a return to activities that have been set aside for many months. I am also still very much experiencing the uncertainty and frequent changes of the pandemic crisis, as well as the awareness that my personal behavior can have an enormous impact on the lives of others. These are all things that can transform my analytical super-power into kryptonite, and so I have been leaning heaving into the next step.
I share my April challenges right now not to get sympathy, but because I think many of us are struggling in the same way. It is very exciting and wonderful that we seem to be moving out of the crisis. At the same time, this current transitional stage might be the hardest yet. We can set goals, or they are being set for us, but it’s not at all clear how we are going to be able to achieve them.
If we revisit my fog analogy from last year, I think it is clear that the fog is lifting. We can see the sun shining up there somewhere, and we can see far enough ahead to see exit signs as they approach instead of when we are right on top of them. We still can’t see much beyond that. And we may not be able to tell how close we are to our destination or even what it will look like when we get there. At least we can see a little, and that is all we need right now. What is the next step? That’s all we need to worry about. We are moving forward and we know where we are headed. It is OK not to know exactly when or how we will get there.
Safe travels on this crazy journey. I can’t wait to be with you again soon!