What Should You Do, Right Now?
It starts like this: a sunny Monday morning, the birds chirping, the air crisp, a fun weekend over my shoulder, a day filled with promise.
Then I go and ruin it.
Why? Because I spend too many hours wondering:
What to do? What should I do right now? Next? Writing an essay or submitting one? Returning emails or watching a training video? Swim or run? This or that?
I am a system in motion, rife with indecision, running into each corner of the room every five minutes to see if there’s something there. I’m filled with an idea of “getting it right” — as if landing on the one right/best activity is going to be the magic ticket. As if my day is a lottery. A lottery to . . . well, I’m not sure! Which makes this Getting It Right (GIR) quest even sillier.
Prepare for some mixed metaphors.
At the end of a GIR day, I feel like a dog who’s chased her tail for hours— churning and burning, a flurry of activity and thought. I’ve accomplished nothing except for kicking up a dust storm of frustration.
The other image is the lazy Susan — one of those spinning turntables you place in the middle of a group dinner as a way to pass around food without reaching or stretching over anyone.
My attention flicks from one item to the next: writing a blog, but WAIT — there’s the email I haven’t responded to! — I go to my inbox, and as I respond to that email . . . A PODCAST I WANTED TO SENT TO A CLIENT! — and then back to the writing, and then STOP, sit up straight to consider another, better idea for writing . . . and on and on and on and ON.
While I know I’m not the only person doing the lazy-Susan focus spin, it makes me blush to watch myself in such a stupid quandary. Like every day’s a test and I’m in a panic to get it right. So I do nothing but spin.
I first identified this behavior around 14 years ago, when I was working for myself as a writer and a coach, following a regular technical writing jobby-job, where I had my deadlines set for me. Now I had the privilege of creating my days and setting my schedule, priorities, and goals. And yet, so much terrain!
What to do, what to do?
During this early chapter of tail chasing, there was a lot of Why-Oh-Whys and self-judging; there was an eventual onset of compassion (my clients were experiencing similar frustrations so I had to give myself a break); there was a bit of humor and eventually, I found a way to dig in and move forward with less lazy-Susan focus spin.
14 years later, back at it. This or that, this or that?
During this pandemic year, my attention span has been extra restless and undisciplined, and I’ve had to rehabilitate it (work in progress). What’s different this time around is that I approach it with curiosity. Today, I see the conditioned thinking behind the GIR tail chasing.
Whenever I’m stuck, underneath is this idea around Getting It Right: connecting with someone in just the right way so I don’t appear dumb or desperate; promoting a piece of writing or a workshop in just the right way so that _________. I’m not even sure how to finish that sentence. So I won’t be humiliated to death? That’s probably close to the truth but it’s INSANE, right?
Of course, there’s no “getting it right”, i.e. there’s no best way or right thing or ideal course of action. I know this because when I flash my GIR light onto the day’s possibility, nothing gets done, other than fretting and spinning the lazy Susan and chasing a very exhausted tail.
Then I saw it. It’s about flow!
One Thursday afternoon I was opening up new swim slots for my Masters Swim group, which takes my full attention because I don’t want to mess it up. (See, ha!) There are a lot of people’s livelihoods riding on snagging a covid-era swim reservation! Once the slots were up I sent out an email to the group with a few news items. This took about 45 minutes. For 45 minutes my body was humming, purring, trilling — you name the contented sound.
I was in a flow state! I wasn’t flitting here and there, wondering This? or That?, trying to get anything right (well the swim slots, yes, but that was more of a challenge and I was FOCUSED).
This body-system doesn’t care WHAT it does. It not only doesn’t give a shit if it’s this writing essay or that client email. It wants to be in flow. It wants to get carried away by a stream of activity that takes up all its attention.
Swim email? Writing your greatest book manuscript? Editing a website? Cooking dinner? Talking to a friend? Staring out the window?
Just give it your all — whatever you’re doing. Commit, devote yourself, fully engage. There is no Getting It Right. There is no Best Use of Time. Whatever you are in, is your best use of “time” (another topic).
For those of you with wandering, explosive attention spans; those who are well-acquainted with frequent focus sprays; hey!, you over there with the restless, all-over-the-place mental flurries like mine — there comes a time when strategy be damned, just pick something, anything and get in there.
Let yourself enjoy that sensation of being in a flow state. This is the best thing to do, always. For mind, for the body, for the spirit. And because it feels good.
As for getting it right — this is the ultimate illusion.
On the subject of GIR, there is a fabulous poem I want to tell you about.
“Getting It Right,” by Matthew Dickman, published in the New Yorker.