Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I attended a course last week on diversity, travelling to a training center close to home on Thursday and Friday, trying to keep up with work during the 2-day seminar, eventually working at home after the seminar just to keep up. It was a difficult week, receiving emails that required immediate attention plus some administrative work that just had to be done, causing me to work until midnight on Thursday evening. On top of that were my usual extra-curricular activities that required me to watch DVDs from the library and read books and magazines scheduled to be returned the next week. It was crazy times again, driven by the automatic response to keep busy – reading and watching movies in the guise of some future goal to be updated and aware of current events and to be culturally relevant. This plays on my strength, the inclination to absorb much input but also an innate fear of being left behind, neglecting one’s own abilities to successfully tackle any problem without deceptive confidence of reading too many books.

This brings me to one of the chapters in the book ‘Coaching the Artist Within.’ This urge to be constantly busy is actually a reaction, to flee from looking into the roots of this fear, to find meaning on why one does what he does. A ‘centering’ exercise is proposed to bring the mind back into reality, to focus on the task at hand and not flee the circumstances, to keep the mind grounded. This is the same problem I have at work, neglecting to respond instantaneously to emails, to react immediately by a reply or an action to update a ticket or create a service request, instead putting it aside and passing the buck down the road so one can look at it later, at the real risk of being overwhelmed. Therefore, I lack a system that should keep me on top of things, something that I have missed despite all the self-help books I have read like David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ or Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successfully People.’ It used to be that I could cope but the volume has increased significantly that it is just too much unless I upgrade my ‘mental’ technology of organization and productivity.

My initial urge is look for the latest technology in computers and tablets or the latest idea in business to solve the problem, but the book really explains that it has nothing to do with the use of the latest gizmo or productivity idea but to look into one’s soul so to speak, doing a sort of cognitive therapy to correct a mental mistake, like a bias towards an erroneous idea. I think there is benefit in both approaches but clearly the issue is the mind’s desire to escape; it is the most immediate reason. Why is one escaping? Because of the fear of failure, the fear that one cannot be the writer or manager that one can be, fear to proceed in a bold and creative way, preferring to work in the shadows instead of stepping forward and expressing one’s ideas; to lead. But one agrees that writing is difficult but the years were not spent unwisely; the continued reading of books, gathering of experience and journal writing and reflecting has profit. Similarly, the years of experience, training and technical and academic study has also provided the skills needed to succeed as a manager. Therefore, one needs to ‘ground’ the mind by centering its attention to the task at hand; whether in managing or writing.

How do I procrastinate at work? Seeing emails from people I don’t know or rarely know throws my mind into a panic. Whether it is an email or an automated alert that goes to my in box, the panic throws my mind into a frenzy (unless I know it’s an organized attack that I need to respond right way lest the issue blows up), but initially I am fearful that I will not live up to expectation, thereby delaying my response. But days later, when my mind calms down, I come back to the email and find it’s not as bad as I thought. Hence, it’s an emotional response by the mind (or nervous system); perhaps it’s one’s creative nature that goes off, reactive when one needs to stay calm. Grounding my mind via centering maybe the solution; although I am looking into tools like Trello or agile feature in our ticket system, to help organize work.  But the key is creating a ‘system’ like a weekly review of the tasks at hand, organizing work and responding in a timely manner, principles expressed in David Allen’s GTD.


Another skill that I need to work on is replying to emails in a friendly and non-reactive manner. But the key is the cognitive realization of the emotional mental (?) response or fear to an email from person unknown. But the other challenge is the volume of work, to have a strategy to handle the incoming mail, maybe it is not an emotional response but a reaction by an overstressed mind. Therefore, aside from the weekly review, the next effort is to plan one’s activity, for example, checking emails at a certain time of the day – maybe at 10 am and 2 am. The strategy looks something like the following:

-        Review open tickets every week, possibly Friday or Saturday. Extract business requirements to Excel and review
-        Organize work after review of open tickets by using kanban method (agile feature)
-        Read email twice a day and respond promptly following David Allen’s GTD
-        Organize all other work like book writing and toastmasters using Trello.com
-        Practice centering techniques or meditation to calm the mind

I now realize that I have been taking vitamin supplements like St. John's Wort, Gingko Biloba and Valerian to calm my mind, to handle the cognitive issues plaguing my mental well-being, instead of the hard task of cognitive therapy.


No comments: