The ticking crocodile

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Those of you who have read J M Barrie’s play Peter Pan, or seen the various film adaptations of the story, will be familiar with the crocodile which has swallowed a clock. Being pursued by that terrible ticking creature who may choose to put you on the menu at any moment explains a lot about most people’s relationship with time. Or is that just me?

Now and again, we get an alarming wake up call. I got mine about 12 years ago when two bereavements in a matter of weeks knocked me spectacularly sideways. Suddenly I became acutely aware of the ticking crocodile lurking beneath the apparently calm waters. I changed my priorities, career and focus.

However, being one of Barbara Sher’s ‘scanners’ by nature, I am interested in many, many things. (If you suspect you might be a scanner too, read her brilliant books Wishcraft and I could do anything if only I knew what it was. They will make you shout hallelujah several times while reading.) The only difficulty scanners have is cramming everything you want to do into 24 hours each day. We really need several lifetimes. This brings up some issues of time management.

I reached an all too familiar state of frazzle yesterday, and needed to remind myself of what to do when this strikes. Hopefully, some of my reminders might be useful if you find yourself in a similar boat.

1. Stop and prioritise. Yes, I know it sounds basic, but I’m sure I can’t be alone in choosing to tackle the easy, unimportant tasks rather than the big and nasties on my list? Know that the washing up/ironing/Twitter or whatever your favourite pastime is will never go away. The scary stuff must take precedence. (I have, on occasions, raised procrastination to an art form.)

2. When you have prioritised, look at the projects you want to move forward. Can you realistically keep all these plates spinning? (Don’t forget you have to eat, sleep and speak to your family occasionally.) Can something wait? Just having too many things on the to do list at one time is a surefire way for the house of cards to collapse if an unexpected stressor walks through the door. “Hi, I’m here to ruin all your plans … ”

3. One of the most useful low-tech tools I have found is the six-part notebook from Paperchase. Each section is a different colour. On the first page of each section you write or draw the project or goal you want to progress. (Filofax sections work just as well.) Then you identify some milestones. Each time you move the project forward, you write a note with a date and what you did. This serves three purposes:

  1. You have evidence of inching forward.
  2. You can see which projects are being neglected and choose to do something or save that one for later (but still have a place to capture ideas/contacts relating to it).
  3. You can celebrate progress because you are tracking it. This is important. It’s easy to awfulise on a bad day and feel that nothing is going right. Taking steps, however Lilliputian, is A Good Thing.

High-tech people may guffaw and have a handy thing on their pc or phone or whatever. But paper and pen works for me and the notebook keeps the contents of my head in one accessible place.

So, back on track today and moving forward on what matters. And though unable to silence the ticking crocodile, I’ve at least quietened him down for now.

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