I have no idea how I’m going to achieve it. But I’m going to believe it – with all my heart.
On New Year’s Day, I dragged out all of my painting supplies, found an old pair of sweat pants that were about 3 sizes too small, and set about the task of painting my new study my favorite shade of golden yellow (Sherwin Williams’ Compatible Cream).
It took me all day, but by the evening hours, I had a smart-looking room to call my own with two solid coats of paint. I’m sitting in it at this very moment, at my IKEA table, typing this post. The morning sun bathes the room in a warm glow as it streams in the 3 windows and glass door and reflects off the new paint. I feel happy in here. Two of the walls are stacked up with my supplies and tools, which hopefully will find a home of their own in a new IKEA storage system as soon as I get my finances in check and pay off Mr. N/A.
As I mentally prepared myself for a new year full of opportunities and optimistic hope, I put my overly analytical mind to good use and pondered on my task management system, just as I usually do when I’m feeling a sense of renewal. It finally dawned on me that I have been operating all my life with a false definition of a “task,” which had consequently rendered me completely non-productive. It was an amazing, powerful “ah-ha” moment for me.
For years I would add tasks to my lists like, Organize Study or Lose 10 Pounds. Those items would stay on my list for months – sometimes years – and I would see them every day and feel like a failure because I hadn’t completed them. I could see the final picture in my mind – a beautiful space to work or a nice lean figure – but I had no idea where to start.
Like a flash of light, I suddenly realized that these are not tasks. They are projects. Projects have tasks. Many tasks make up one project. One task can belong to many projects. My geeky data-analysis background finally served me in my personal life. It’s such a simple thing – maybe you’re thinking I’m an idiot for not knowing that before. But my brain just never operated that way. Everything overwhelmed me. I had no idea how to break something down into tiny, manageable steps.
I started with the Organize Study Project. One of my new tasks for that project was Paint Study. But then I realized that even that had multiple steps. I had to decide on a color, first of all, then buy the paint, then get my supplies, prepare the room, and finally, I could paint.
As I reviewed my old lists of tasks, and began to apply this “new” principle, I could see a pattern emerge for me. My tasks could be broken out into Action Tasks and Decisions to Make. The decisions had been my stumbling block – they had paralyzed me and kept me from completing nearly anything.
Making a decision, for me, requires some quiet, soul-searching time. I need to be still and listen to my gut and my feelings. I need to know what I want. In the chaos of living with a narcissistic alcoholic, there is no quiet time. My feelings were always tied up in knots. My gut was wrenched into some horrible position that gave me constant pain. Ever on edge, surviving from one dramatic moment to the next… my decisions were almost always reactions.
Now the clouds are clearing. I have moments – glimpses of peace and happiness. I have quiet times to pay attention to my insides.
For the first 3 years after my divorce, those quiet moments were hell for me. I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t sit still. I was uncomfortable and itchy in my own skin.
With my new system I can identify small decisions that must be made before I can move forward with an action task, and if I find myself with some good quality thinking time, I can redirect my wandering, busy mind to one of these.
One of my favorite songs is Hammer and a Nail by the Indigo Girls. I’ve listened to it hundreds – maybe thousands – of times, and I never understood the story they were trying to tell me:
I had a lot of good intentions
Sit around for fifty years and then collect a pension
Started seeing the road to hell
And just where it starts
But my life is more than a vision
The sweetest part is acting after making a decision
I started seeing the whole as a sum of its parts