The problem with a successful summer is that it can cause an overenthusiasm of doings.
A month living and working in Greece was exactly what I needed to get a fresh perspective on my life and work in the UK. Ideas for new ventures spilled easily from my split skull and they all, fatefully, found a spot on my Doings list.
None of this summer shower of ideas were bad, what is bad is that I can only work on three things at a time. Only three tasks on a given day, only three jobs in a given week, only three projects in a given month. And I already had three things that I was working on.
So what happened to this summer’s Trojan horse of ideas and ventures? It swelled and, bloated, filled my brain with to do list rot: a constant reminder that I wasn’t able to back up my ideas with action.
Last night something snapped. I woke up at 3 a.m. silently screaming into my duvet.
What’s amusing is that my subconscious speaks to my conscious in the only metaphorical language we both understand: football.
Last night, in my dream, I was watching a football match – some sort of two-legged European knock-out fixture. Liverpool (my team) had won the away leg quite handsomely by three goals to nil. It couldn’t have gone better: a wonderful lead to take into the second game at Anfield.
Unfortunately, the highlights package of my dream/nightmare started in the 72nd minute, just as the opposing team’s striker Andrej Kramaric was bending the ball into the far corner for 4-0 against Liverpool.
My horrifying silent scream was the realisation that, even if Liverpool were to get one goal back, we’d still be knocked out on the away goals rule.
Something had to be done, so I woke myself up and hastily scribbling down a metaphorical interpretation in my notebook.
Three aspects of the metaphor stuck out:
- The ‘away leg’ went fantastically well, just as my ‘away summer’ went fantastically well.
- But now I’m back playing ‘at home’ and, just like the Liverpool defence, I’m horribly overwhelmed.
- Luckily, there is one chink of light in the nightmare: it’s only the 72nd minute. There are still 18 minutes of normal time to play and, as unlikely as a comeback would be, it’s not impossible. Stranger things have happened – like when Liverpool were 1-3 down with less than 25 minutes to go at Anfield against Dortmund in the 2016 Europa League quarter-final second leg and ended up winning 4-3 to progress to the semi-finals.
Having noted these useful metaphorical parallels between my dream world and my real world, I wrote down a list of actions I could take to dramatically reduce my feeling of overwhelm. It amounted to declaring To Do List Bankruptcy.
First thing this morning, I archived the dozens of notes on ideas and ventures that had been building up, hauntingly unactioned in my daily workbook. Then I copied my myriad lists into my Spark! file for review in 3 months’ time (a great idea from writer Steven Johnson) and I cleared out my email inbox.
Emptiness. For the first time since I got back from Greece, a clear desk and a clear mind.
Then I wrote down the three things that I would aim to accomplish today. Finally, I used a Stoic meditation to visualise how this day would pan out, including how I would respond if, and inevitably when my best laid plans ran into trouble.
Then, feeling much better, I had breakfast. And sat down to write this blog post to you.