Time out from the mental checklist.
When I was doing my morning practice of yoga and meditation recently, it dawned on me that I spend so much time during the day with the next task on my mind; my mental checklist keeps rolling throughout the day. This is efficient and effective for our workday; however, how much time do we spend without the “next thing” on our list? When do we take that time to surrender to the moment, to surrender in a way where we detach from any lists, shouldn’t, couldn’t, or to-do lists? From my experience with clients and for me, we don’t spend much time in this space unless it is by intention. This is part of the reason why meditation can be so challenging for people. We spend most of our existence with the next task on our list, keeping our minds busy with activity and being so used to being busy that when we stop the cycle it feels uncomfortable.
When we take a moment, whether that is 1 minute, 5 minutes or longer to consciously spend time with no ‘next task’ on the list we create some space and perspective to reset into the Relaxation Response. The Relaxation Response is not about a sleepy space, or an unproductive space, it is a highly effective zone where you can think clearly and creatively to make your best decisions. It’s the green zone. As opposed to the red zone, which is our Stress Response, this is where the thinking part of our brain shuts down under stress – not ideal for decision making. The red zone is triggered when we tell ourselves we are feeling stress or pressure, maybe from our own inner task master to-do list.
We can be harder on ourselves and have higher expectations of ourselves than we do of our work colleagues, friends or family. We can judge our actions and berate ourselves and then work even harder to do more to make up for it. This unproductive circle can keep cycling around and on the way can induce more of the red zone, fuelling anxiety and stress.
Surrendering from the list may not feel comfortable for you at first. The more uncomfortable it is for you the more you could benefit from it, especially given most of us have spent our whole life thinking of the next job on the list.
Here are some tips for helping you create some space and get your mind more in the green zone:
1 — Write down your to-do list – take time at the start of each day to write down everything that is on your mind. Better out than in.
2 — Once you have written down your tasks, allocate a time next to each task so you can actually see how long you will need to complete each of them.
3 — Then you need to prioritise the tasks and pick out the ones that you would like to complete today. Not some fantasy Cinderella-style complete list, actual tasks that fit the time frame you have allocated to work. So many people have 10 hours of tasks that they assign to complete with only 8 hours they have allocated to work. Allocate less and allow space in your day for the unexpected.
4 — Take a period of time out – 1 minute, 5 minutes or more when you have time NOT thinking about the next task on your list. This could be when you eat your breakfast, lunch or dinner to start with. Then you could start it when you are in transit, cars, trains, planes. If thoughts come in (they will) just let them go as effortlessly as you can. Come back to the moment, you breath or your meal.
These time-out moments can be small gaps when you can be truly present and induce more calm, perspective, creativity and space to make the decisions you want to make. Think of your “non- planning” time as a reset for your body and mind. A chance to let go, surrender to thoughts and lists and in doing this you will naturally balance your body and mind and feel more energised throughout your day.