Ever since reading Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, I've been really focused on Getting to Zero -- i.e., managing my tasks, projects, life by concentrating on the next concrete Action I can take, taking it, and then, being at rest.
Fundamentally, for me Zero means having an empty head. It feels odd to me to write those words, me who loves thinking and doing and making shit happen, but seriously,
having an empty head is totally my goal.
Let me back up a second.
For years I felt like I was constantly on the run, flat-out on the hamster wheel. I kept up, barely, managing by doing tasks to their very minimum, always pushing deadlines, keeping my head just high enough out of water not to drown. I even rushed to yoga, cramming in 4 classes a week, desperate for some breaks.
For those same years, I suffered from crushing insomnia, which I always knew was my poor brain's way of carving out time, in the dark of night, to remind me of all that I wasn't getting to, what I wasn't completing, what was hanging me up and keeping me from truly and deeply resting.
The force of stress and worry runs strong in this one.
All of that began to change when I quit my stupid job and became self-employed. Right away, that put control of my time back into my hands, which meant I had a lot more of it in which to get shit done.
But it was reading these lines, within the first 25 pages of this book, on pages 21 and 22, that made the change complete:
There is usually an inverse proportion between how much something is on your mind and how much it's getting done.
There is no reason ever to have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.
Oh, I know these so well. And I wanted to be done, looping the same exhausting un-liked thoughts through my mind, honing that nasty anxiety habit.
So I changed. I followed what was in the book, made lists of projects, got clear about Next Actions, and mostly got confident that I had a system to capture everything so that my poor over-busy brain could relax and take a break -- stop trying to remind me of everything, stop running those tiresome loops.
An empty head is a happy head.
It hasn't been without hiccups. Recently, I completed something on my @Action list, something I'd procrastinated on for ages. And then, a week or so later, middle of the night, this task resurfaced. I awoke full of anxiety about this un-done thing, and started going round and round with it in my head, feeling bad about it, until I realized, wait a second, I dealt with this. Once I interrupted the habitual worry, I could rest easy.
My head was empty, and I went right back to sleep.
It's a little crazy when I compare my life now to my life a year ago. In some ways, there is no comparison at all. I have the same number of responsibilities -- actually, I think I have more -- but I'm vastly happier and calmer. I complete work ahead of deadline. I sleep. I walk with the dog without watching the clock or rushing. I have stretches of time in which to think new thoughts, to be creative, to sit.
Sometimes it's true: I feel a little off-balance with this newly-empty head of mine. I am so accustomed, from years of practice, to being under pressure, that I sometimes don't know what to do with myself, with this open, empty time I have around every task.
When you've been at war for years, peace is kinda hard to grow accustomed to, you know?
But I realize I've never wanted anything else, nothing but peace, my whole life. So I'm starting with me, living at zero with an empty head. And it's great. I'm happy.