How to be ready for anything?

In comparison to other tasks that do not demand much from your brain, such as filling out paperwork, writing a shopping list or reacting to a regular email, creative work takes a lot of “mental horsepower.” Why is this? David Allen, author of the book, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Getting Things Done, shares more.

First, a mental juggling act is imaginative work. A creative act at any time demands that you have several different aspects simultaneously in mind and analyze them.

For starters, she has to reckon with several different things when a screenwriter is in the process of writing a script. She must come up with a compelling plot and a plausible story. For the emotional states of the characters, she would need to invent powerful visual metaphors, including using heavy rainfall to symbolize sorrow. She’ll have to ensure that not too many different shooting locations are needed for the script, as that will raise production costs. And she’s going to have a lot of background research to do as well, especially if her story is set in an ancient age, or anything like that.

Simultaneously juggling all these variables takes a lot of mental effort. In addition, the effort depends on us getting a kind of mental “storage space.” This space is at a premium for most of us, however. All the short- to mid-term knowledge that will be important is stored in what we will call a kind of psychic RAM. The data we store there varies from the subtotal of the bill you measure to the fact that you need to buy milk. Crucially, on this psychic RAM, artistic thinking also depends.

Sadly, though, the ability of psychic RAM is limited. Attempting to keep a lot of data in mind at once will cause your RAM to become too full to process any new ideas. That means that your imagination will suffer, of course. If, when our heads are packed with boring information, memos, statistics and so on, we can not be imaginative, then it follows that we must find a way to clear our minds of such data.

As we’ve seen, it will impede your imagination to store too much knowledge in your psychic RAM. But there are other reasons to stop trying to store all of your emotions in your brain as well. Next, it can very well be inaccessible when you need it if you don’t set up an idea when it comes to you. This is because our psychic RAM is very small, so older data could be removed to make room for new data. In reality, a newer, much more boring one, such as, “must buy milk” might nudge the best idea you’ve ever had out of your RAM.

Information stored in your RAM is also poorly organized, so when you need it, you can find yourself unable to retrieve the great idea. Imagine you’re planning for your finals, for example, and a brilliant business idea pops into your head. Once the exams are done, you do not have access to it when you actually have time to explore the idea, since it’s hidden under all the knowledge you need for the exams.

But you no longer rely on your psychic RAM by writing down your ideas, and those ideas will be much easier to retrieve when you need them. Yet, writing ideas down is more than keeping them safe: writing allows us to identify and analyze them as well. Between a concept and its real-world implementation, there is a vast difference. It is typically not very obvious when you first have an idea, say, for a company, but rather a jumble of abstract thoughts and potential assumptions, such as “save costs” or “interns.”

The act of writing down the concept in full sentences forces us to structure it more clearly and helps us to see any flawed assumptions that we may have made. For example, the written assertion “We can save 20 percent on our costs by hiring interns” is much easier to analyze than the embryonic concept that resides in the mind alone.

Imagine getting the chance you’ve been waiting for: the opportunity to film a documentary. Unfortunately, your plate is quite complete with teaching Media Science at a university, then reality kicks in. How do you decide whether you can fit making that film into your schedule?

It will assist you in your decision to actually be aware of the activities you have committed to. Setting down any existing activities and ventures, such as future lessons and workshops that you have decided to teach, allows you to see clearly how much time and energy you are already consuming, and then if there is enough left over to devote to that film project. In addition, if you are mindful of your obligations, you are in a position to accept the opportunity to drop those duties or assign them to someone else so that you can make room for an enticing new project in your life. Perhaps you might also appoint a keen research student to any of your classes so that you can make the documentary.

But even though you have mentioned and are already completely aware of all of your obligations, you will still have to determine which tasks are more relevant than others. You need to obtain clarification about your job description and priorities in order to prioritize in this way. Then, in relation to a single reference point, you may assess the value of the tasks.

In our case, your work is a good point of reference: How important is a specific task in relation to your job description? If your job is a lecturer in Media Science, and the semester has just started, teaching would obviously be closer to your job description than creating a documentary.

Your ambitions may be another reference point: Is it your ultimate objective to become a filmmaker? If so, then you should maybe seriously consider leaving teaching and taking advantage of the opportunity in front of you. Each project you plan will entail its own set of risks and difficulties, such as bad weather, or an investor who pulls out, and so on, no matter the area of work. It is also possible, though, to plan for things that might go awry.

In reality, when a project is still in the planning stages, and not when it’s already underway, the best time to deal with possible obstacles is. There are also chances during this period to plan for anything that could go wrong. Imagine, for instance, that you’re organizing a big garden party and you’re expecting rain on the big day. You’ll have plenty of time to plan a party tent in such a situation, or come up with fun indoor activities, just to be safe. Thus, your party is set to go smoothly no matter the weather. On the other hand, if you hadn’t used the planning stages to deal with potential problems, and a thunderstorm catches you by surprise, you’ll have far fewer options – for instance, you wouldn’t have a tent on standby.

Furthermore, delays and interruptions are to be anticipated in every project. So, if such interruptions are not allowed by your timetable, any unexpected occurrence will result in your project running behind schedule. Just imagine a stage designer who knows his team can, under normal circumstances, build a dummy ship in eight hours. If he plans this job for the very day of the premiere performance, should a co-worker call in sick or the paint not dry in time, there will be no time reserve to fall back on.

The designer risks not finishing his work in time for the premiere, aside from the fact that working this way brings his team under a lot of undue pressure, which causes issues for the theater and everyone involved. That lesson? A good timetable will tolerate such delays and avoid the occurrence of major problems.

Check out my related post: Do you use the amplification strategy?

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