I read an article today recapping productivity lessons from Fortune’s annual Most Powerful Women Next Gen Conference in Laguna Nigel, California. The underlying message shared by two of the panelists, authors and productivity experts Laura Vanderkam and Camille Preston was the idea of letting go of the many perceived worries that can hamper your creativity, and productivity. By unburdening yourself, you create room in your mind for developing true insights in your work, and personal life. This simple message seems so utterly attainable and yet I know that for many us, the reality is that our minds are so jam-packed with the minutia of running our day to day lives that it might as well as be written in an alien language. You see, I’m a futurist. Unlike Elon Musk, my futurism centers on worrying about what will befall my future self (definitely way less exciting than worrying about colonizing Mars), and in turn, being as utterly prepared for any catastrophe big or small as humanly possible. As you can imagine, this tendency is a double-edged sword. I never forget to bring sunscreen to a swimming pool. Ever. On the other hand, I also start thinking about filing my taxes in October. My mind at times feel like it has its own version of Hermione’s Undetectable Extension Charm. This is just a fact about me. Its executive functioning skills turned to 11. The challenge is that these are the very skills that make me a very desirable employee, a conscientious friend, and a good life partner (among many other things hopefully!). I like to make people’s lives easier, and it happens to be easier to do that very thing when you can always remember to send flowers on a friend’s birthday or anniversary. If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, is this person really complaining about being too good at planning? Yes, yes I am. I don’t necessarily desire a life where decisions are made moment to moment, which is kind of hard to do anyway when you have a family and a career. What is desirable is a bit more mental wiggle room, that clarity that can seem so elusive, so that when I am watching a movie, I am just watching a darn movie, instead of going over the mailing list for our holiday cards in my mind. Here are a few more concrete strategies that I am implementing in my life that build on that beautiful message of letting go (cue the Frozen music):
1. Minimize the notifications and interruptions. Whether it is email, text, or your TV, pay less attention to it. Note: This is going to be really hard at first! It is so valuable though if you can retrain yourself to pay just a little less attention, and instead focus on whatever you were working on in the first place. I shut off my TV as I was writing this article, because I just couldn’t help but lookup every few seconds. I also received text messages from three different people, and while I snuck a quick peek, I am waiting until what my current priority is, i.e. finishing this, before I respond.
2. Write it down, and then try to forget about it. Even if you are responsible for no one other than yourself, it takes a shockingly many number of things to keep you alive. Food, water, shelter, an HBO GO subscription. You have to remember to pay bills, buy groceries, take your cat to the vet, change the oil on your car, and make dentist appointments. The sheer tide of things that have to get done can be a great source of stress, so one trick I use is to write everything down. Not necessarily in a list, but as anything pops into my head, I jot it down. I then try (key word) to forget about that particular thing, and refocus on whatever I was originally thinking or working on. I go back usually in the middle of the afternoon or so, when my mind is screaming for a break, and tackle these less urgent, but necessary tasks.
3. Minimize the sheer volume of stuff you can worry about. This almost seems like a no brainer, but if you have less things on your plate, you will have less things to worry about. Learn to say no, often and effectively. Pay close attention to how you do certain things. Could you improve your sanity if you stopped doing a particular chore, and outsourced it instead? Are you properly delegating to coworkers, or your spouse, or family members? You’re not a hero if you’re somehow the only one in your family who ever makes meals, if there are two capable adults (or teenagers) in the household (unless cooking is your way to de-stress).
Let’s embrace simplicity and unleash our creativity by releasing one stressful thought at a time.