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How do some people thrive in chaos?

A casual comment by a colleague came out of the blue: “I am just tired of the pandemic, tired of the political discourse, tired of this malignant divisiveness.”

Okay, we all get it. This is just the way it is, but how do some people suit up, give it their best shot, and somehow navigate the headwinds of adversity and remain committed and grounded to their core values while others wither?

Let us accept that we are hammered by thousands of data points each day—email, texts, a volcano of social media and cable news. The endless loop snares us with uncertainty, doom and gloom, “chicken little” thinking. Even though we know the sky is not falling, at the same time we have personal and professional commitments that we ignore at our peril.

Family members need care, reports are due at work, children require homework help, somebody has to do the grocery shopping, the tires on the car are low, the dog just threw up, grandma has cancer, bills need to be paid, the furnace repair guy is ringing the doorbell, and fifty emails are waiting to be answered. Maybe the sky is falling.

What can we learn from those warriors who somehow move forward in the face of total chaos?

  • They maniacally focus on one task at a time, one app at a time, and avoid the perils and the pitfalls of multitasking. They understand that our attention span is limited to approximately one uninterrupted hour. That is all, folks, one uninterrupted hour.

  • They are “dead fit” to use a racetrack term. They recognize the importance of aerobic activity for least 30 minutes on most days of the week. They follow in general a plant-based or Mediterranean-type diet, which minimizes red meat of animal origin and focuses on colored fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and a minimum of any processed foods. Hardly rocket science.

  • They have learned to put clear time limits on screen time. They will review financial data, an upcoming trip, plans for X, Y, and Z and then shut down, log off, and move on. They recognize that without clear limits they can wander aimlessly in a digital vineyard and after several hours will have nothing productive to show for the effort. I’m talking about Facebook and the like.

  • They recognize that at the start of the week they have 168 hours. They follow the “law” of Warren Buffett. If they do not set the agenda, someone will set it for them, and this may not be in their best interest.

  • They have a list of “will not dos.” They will not agree to trivial commitments to meet someone else’s needs. They fanatically avoid digital or face-to-face meetings that have no clear endpoint and no agenda. They have the courage to say “no” with clear and unambiguous language.

  • They carve out a quiet moment of solitude on a weekend or at the start of the week and strategize and visualize how the week will unfold. They recognize the importance of a “brain dump”—meaning writing down everything because our brain is not designed for storage. Our brain is not a file cabinet.

  • They rivet into the calendar the nonnegotiable, non-optional commitments. And they understand as do athletes and people of prominence the importance of rituals and consistent routines especially for sleep and mealtime and carve out time for hobbies.

At one time in history, we could “wing it.” Concepts of time management and attention management were not mission critical, but this is a whole new ballgame. The world is spinning, and we will spin unless we anchor ourselves in time and space and control what we can control.

Bottom line: The future belongs to the fit, the focused, and those who understand that if we are distracted or interrupted, it may take up to 25 minutes to get back to where we were.

In today’s techno-driven culture and society, it is not enough to simply show up. We need to be targeted and focused or we will be swept away by the carnivorous digital dragon.

Stop and smell the roses (grown by Tom Liggett, author of Mozart in the Garden). Used with permission.

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