Sunday, February 7, 2010

Getting things out of my head

I thoroughly enjoyed The Whole Self's 21 Days project, which concluded this week. I know I'll be re-reading several of those insightful posts. One that really hit home with me was Day 11 - Neglect. The part that immediately jumped out at me was about writing things down, getting it out of one's head:

"I think David Allen was the one who coined the term psychic RAM, meaning the memory in your head that retains all the facts and figures you carry around with you. Writing everything down essentially creates a download from your head on to paper. What you write down are all the things you have on your to do list. Your work commitments, things to do at home, projects that you want to be able to do, someday maybe projects. Just keep writing until you've committed it all to paper. This decluttering of the head has the same emotional impact as the black bin bag exercise. It lightens the load."

I knew that was just what I needed. I'd be feeling extremely overwhelmed trying to keep all the different parts of my job in my mind. I was ready to download it to paper, especially after watching this video of David Allen at Google:

It is a long watch, but like water to this thirsty soul actually. I bought a package of little notebooks that happened to be at the checkout counter at Staples - the universe giving me what I need through impulse shopping, love it! One lives down in my studio and one up at command central, the kitchen table. If I think of something (excuse me as I go write "gluesticks" and "book glue" on my list...) I go jot it down, which frees up my mind to focus on what I'm really doing at the time and the act of writing it down actually seems to help me remember better later and at a more appropriate time. My sense is that more things get done, that I'm more focused and less distracted. I definitely feel a lot less overwhelmed.

A couple of things stand out to me from the talk. One is that our brains just aren't made as remembering devices. Now, I can really resist this argument. How did the Iliad and the Sutras get handed down? Look at how little we actually use our brains, etc, etc. And there are some memory issues in my family. So it becomes a point of pride that I need to and can juggle all of this in my head. But haven't things changed over time? How much were our ancient ancestors juggling in addition to the stories they carried in their minds? I like to think it was a simpler time. I seem to remember reading somewhere that one newspaper today carries more information that our forefathers received in a lifetime. And then just as I was pondering all of this, a related article was listed in the Art Journal daily email I receive, "Willpower And The 'Slacker' Brain". The focus of the article is on how overworked brains lose willpower, which isn't exactly the part that resonated with me. I just liked hearing how it isn't necessarily a good thing to stress your brain out, keeping it maxed out with remembering lots of information all the time.

Another part that I loved was about information overload and how the mind actually loves to look at complicated things, that's why we feel good in nature. And that really rang true for me, too. Very little feels as good as walking through nature and just letting my eyes and my mind soak it up with no narrative, just looking. It feels like eating. I can feel the experience nourishing me in just the same (wordless) way. And now that I'm not, or at least less frequently, repeating to myself somewhat unconsciously but definitely with great anxiety the five things that must get done that day (which immediately disappear except for a nagging feeling once I step into my office and see the light flashing on my phone and the emails that piled up during the night) I find that I can go into that same state of reverie on my commute to work and arrive much more refreshed and ready to prioritize what needs to be done, also thanks to my wonderful husband who does the driving!

Another thing that he touches on is how our brains have a funky sense of time. And that's been a surprising part of getting things onto paper. A while back I realized that part of why I feel so overwhelmed is that some part of me doesn't understand that some projects are over. I had to consciously tell myself that the exhibit had closed years ago, the artwork was returned, we could put it to rest. I've been working on a report of past shows and have found that to be useful in helping me focus on the present and upcoming projects.

So, anyway, for what it's worth, this all has been on my mind lately, so I thought I'd get it out. Maybe some of it will resonate with you? And as always, thanks for reading!