So what do you do when you don’t do what you’re usually doing?

A strange question

Okay, I admit, that may be a rather strange question. But think about it for a second … do you have other projects than professional ones?

Yes, I know you have your family and friends, but do you have objectives, very specific aims you want to achieve with or for them? And if you are alone, do you have hobbies? Are you very clear on what you want to achieve in those?

Look, this is far from a plea to quantify every single thing you do in your life. Life should most certainly not always be about performance, about results. But perhaps being here and now is partly about clearly understanding why you are here, now instead of somewhere else.

Now only has limited meaning without a clear sense of purpose

Without a clear sense of purpose, now only has limited meaning. Now becomes the moment between what was and what will be. Not to be lived, but to be ensured, to be bridged. Those around you at that moment will experience you bridging that moment, not living it, because you will not be there. At those moments you are either living in the past, going over what has happened, or you live in the future, preparing for what will be.

You are only this moment

The point is, you are not here, now. While you are just and only here and now. You are not different from this moment … and this one … and this one. It’s important that as many of these small moments make sense and are lived to the fullest. As Annie Dillard said: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Because it is so easy to drop into bridging behavior, it makes sense to formulate a clear purpose and sense of objectives in each area of responsibility in your life. Your significant other, your kids, your friends deserve to be part of one of your projects. They have the right to figure in your life, more so than any job related person or entity has that right.

If you fail to identify the relevant areas of responsibility in your life, you will not give yourself and those around you the authorisation to experience you and your presence in all areas of your life. And whomever you are, that would be a loss, not just for those around you, but for yourself most of all.

So, what do you do when you don’t do what you’re usually doing?

Here are four steps that will at least get you on the way

Step 1 – Get out of limbo

That waiting area that some of us spend quite a lot of our lives in has a name. It’s called limbo. It’s that place where you are in between other things. We all spend too much of our lives in limbo.

The best way to get out of limbo is by identifying our areas of focus, as David Allen refers to it in his GTD book. This Simple Dollar post describes more in detail what areas of focus are.

Ideally, you identify all the areas of focus you cover when consciously awake. Not just those areas you deem important, but also those areas you may not be really aware of. Using a time and activity tracker, such as RescueTime for example, is a good first step to understand what – on your computer at least – you are up to. I believe you may actually be surprised. After a couple of days, you will at least be aware of what you are actually spending time on.

One of my key areas of focus which does not get enough attention is ‘being a father to my children’. Note this is not being an adult around smaller people. No, this is about being a dad.

Step 2 – Define objectives for each area of focus

Take your time and define at least one objective, something you want to realize in each of the areas of focus you identified in the previous step. This objective can be a simple answer to the question: what do I want to do for the people which I interact with in this area of focus.

In my area of focus ‘being a father to my children’, I have the objective to “make my children laugh”.

Step 3 – Identify projects that allow you to achieve those objectives

Once it is clear to you what you are trying to achieve in the chosen area of focus, it becomes a lot easier to define a project that will lead to the achievement of those objectives. It proves the point that asking the right question is often the most difficult part in approaches such as GTD.

I had a couple of days off last week, and one of my projects was to visit entertaining statues in Brussels, such as this one and this one. I concede Belgium can be a confusing places. My kids did laugh once the initial surprise and shock wore off.

Step 4 – Make a conscious choice to commit and then be there, then

You are but this moment. Each moment, you have the choice to be here, or not to be here. We often forget we have that choice. But remember, as David Foster Wallace said, “this is water”. If you chose to be here, now, you will be here in a mindful manner.

I’m sure there were a myriad of more productive ways I could have spent my day off. None of them would have been as good fun as that day in Brussels turned out to be. I choose to be there, not somewhere else. I was in the middle of the water.

GTD as an approach provides you with the essential tools to be mindfully present in the moment. We just have to use them the right way in all the areas of our lives.