How To Get Your Groove Back When Life Throws Curveballs

The Problem:

Is anyone else feeling topsy turvy in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew?  Not only was it a huge distraction for days prior to its arrival, but it has disrupted scheduled school, work and other activities for weeks afterwards. The less fortunate will experience months and even years of grief, stress and toil before any sense of normalcy returns. After the frenzy of unexpected activity that a natural disaster requires (shopping, planning, packing, maybe panicking, evacuating, hosting house guests, fixing broken things and cleaning up for days), how can one help but be frazzled, disoriented and confused as to how to get back on track? Other events such as major health crises and the loss of loved ones produce similarly unsettling feelings. We all get thrown off our game from time to time. Do you have a system to get your groove back? 

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The Solution:



Thankfully, as a long-time practitioner of Getting Things Done (GTD) and a devoted Evernote user, I have a road map. The book I have most often given away to business colleagues is Getting Things Done, The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen. I am eternally grateful to the US Coast Guard Commander who recommended it to me more than a decade ago. The GTD philosophy is based on the concept that, "Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them." Because I have a trusted system, I know how to right the ship, so to speak, and can rest easy knowing that when the waves calm, I can get back on.  


First things first, do a mindsweep.  This simple 10-15 minute exercise can be done virtually anytime and anywhere you can think. The first step of GTD is to capture anything that has your attention. Just write down whatever is on your mind. Get it out of your head and down on paper or into Evernote or any note-taking app. Also, collect all receipts, notes, mail, loose papers, etc., in one place such as an in-basket. 

Secondly, clarify. Process each item by asking yourself, "What is this?" and what, if anything, needs to be done about it. If it's actionable, decide what the very next physical action needs to be to move it forward and get it off your mind. If that action will take less than two minutes, do it now. If you can delegate it, do so and track it on a "Waiting For" list notating the date and to whom it was delegated for later follow-up, if needed. If the next action will take more than two minutes, put it on a "Next Actions" list. If one action will not close the loop, it is a project and should be identified as such on a "Projects" list. Consider putting items that do not require immediate action on a "Someday/Maybe" list. Someday/Maybe is one of my most valuable lists and is extraordinarily powerful. If you think you might want to do it someday but lack the resources to do so now, write it down and watch it eventually be realized.  

Next, organize. Place all your clarified items into key action categories that include at least the following: 

  • Projects
  • Calendar
  • Next Actions
  • Waiting For
  • Someday/Maybe

I use sub-categories of the above that are context-specific, such as Home Projects, Work Projects, Errands, Online, Phone Calls, and Read/Review. I use Wunderlist as my list manager, but there are many other effective to-do list or notebook applications that would work just as well. 

Evernote is my external brain.  It syncs to mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktops, and is an electronic filing cabinet and a secure Swiss army knife of information management. My Evernote contains personal and business reference materials organized by stacks and notebooks. It's where I keep a variety of checklists, including books I want to read, movies I want to watch, things I want to pack for weekend trips and things I want to remember to do for hurricane evacuations (very recently updated). If I find myself referring to a document more than once, it gets scanned into Evernote, which has powerful search and sharing features. Insurance documentation and other essential information is easily retrievable on any device, anywhere, anytime. As a soccer mom, I always have a copy of my kids' birth certificates accessible on my phone. And as a small business owner, I can access client and project reference materials, and email receipts to my Evernote receipt notebook from wherever in the world I am.

Finally, review and do.  Maintaining my system requires regular engagement and reflection to ensure that I am doing the work I have defined and processing new inputs, which come in constantly from a variety of sources. I review my calendar and next action lists daily and conduct a weekly review to keep current. This system may sound complex at first glance, but trust me, just try the mindsweep and you will realize benefits and an immediate sense of greater calm and order over chaos. Establishing and maintaining a trusted GTD system and external brain such as Evernote is worth the investment of time on the front end. All of us get thrown off our game now and then - it's part of life. With GTD, I can rest easier in the crazy times knowing I can get my groove back. 

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