In this final segment of the series on taking control of your life, I conclude with some ideas about how to increase your sense of control over your life by reducing the time you spend thinking – while improving the quality of your thinking. For it is only when we are in control of our lives that we can begin to feel less crazy. Thinking is the solution; over-thinking is not.
In an interview shortly before his death, the Nobel-winning Albert Schweitzer was asked what was the biggest problem with modern man. Without hesitation, he replied the biggest problem of man today is that he simply doesn’t think. In this article, I will offer ideas about two things – improving the quality of our thinking and a reminder to think less so we can do more, especially more of working with our hands, alone and in a natural setting. (For an elaboration on this “working with our hands, alone and in a natural setting” theme, I refer you to the wonderful short story Nothing To Do For Three Weeks by the American writer Gordon MacQuarrie.)
Yet, too much thinking can lead to anxiety and loss of actual productivity. You may be guilty of excessive thinking time, which often includes more worrying than thinking clearly and constructively. A sure indicator is if your friends are saying, “You think too much.” The truth is that you are not thinking too much but, rather, thinking in a circular fashion. Ernest Hemingway counseled us to “Never confuse motion with activity.” He meant that simply staying busy was not the same as meaningful activity which was directed towards a worthwhile purpose. The same is true of worrying about possible future problems rather than thinking which is directed toward identifying a specific, workable solution. Worrying often becomes a downwards spiral, bringing us back to the same starting point… but with time wasted and increased anxiety.
So, how do you improve the quality of your thinking time and, as an added benefit, reduce your thinking time to allow for more action time? I owe my friend Liz Huber of London a large debt of gratitude for her many ideas which have illuminated my own unconscious patterns and problems. Liz, a mindset and productivity coach, (https://www.refinedlife.io/) wrote in her recent series, Productivity Secrets of the Ultra-Successful, “Research shows that it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back into fully focusing on the task at hand after being distracted.” This explains why distractions and interruptions can cripple our productivity and the quality of our work, even when we are doing the things we most want to do.
Although we must accept that a certain number of those pesky distractions and interruptions are inevitable, we should look for ways to reduce them as much as possible. Some of the most successful people in the world are fanatical about scheduling time blocks in which they focus on their greatest ROI activities without allowing any outside influences to distract or interfere. These people know what time of the day is most productive for them. During that period, they may temporarily disconnect their internet access and put their cell phone on airplane mode, avoid scheduling appointments or meetings, leave instructions with assistants/roommate/family that they are not to be disturbed by anything less than a genuine, immediate emergency, and retreat to an environment which is conducive to producing their best efforts. Although that environment will vary from individual to individual, the common ground is it offers a place and time when they can work to the best of their ability. These high-level performers know those places, just as they know what time of the day or week is their personal optimum time for such efforts… and they vigorously protect those time blocks. It is often these same people who feel the greatest sense of control over their lives and work.
Getting back to Gordon MacQuarrie, there is another statement from his stories that identifies a basic problem for many people. Mac asked: Who can say how much of a man’s judgment depends on his own state of mind – and how much of his success? Even the most logical and intelligent mind will have internal filters that determine what it notices and how it views the outside world. Our expectations skew our perceptions and, hence, our conclusions. Or, in simpler terms, as Simon and Garfunkel expressed it so perfectly in the lyrics of The Boxer, “… still a man sees what he wants to see, and disregards the rest.” We should make the strongest effort to see what is true and what are the facts rather than accept our preconceived ideas without question. Often, when we remove the obscuring presumptions, a viable solution is clearly visible, allowing us to make a decision and take immediate action.
So, after these hundreds of words in the articles of this series on how to uncrazy your life, it all condenses down to controlling our thinking, making clear and conscious choices of our objectives and their next action steps – then stop thinking and start doing. One last quote from MacQuarrie sums it up perfectly: Use every day for what it is best suited. He might have said to use each block of our day for what that time block is best suited… to create the optimum output and maximum satisfaction. Our days are filled with different environments and roles – and obstacles – but we can find ways to take control over at least part of them. Often, that means that we must be ruthless about not allowing anyone to waste our time, just as we no longer will waste our own time. Then, with the time we save, we can take action. We can work on the things that give us the greatest meaning and satisfaction – ideally, including some things that involve working with our hands, alone and in a natural setting.
And don’t forget to set aside some time regularly to go fishing.