“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”
I was fuming. I could feel the blood surging up to my head, fuelling a litany of judgmental thoughts. Brexit. Trump. That maniac on the M1. Something had gotten ahold of me, and my wife’s normally pleasant country walk was now accompanied – not by songbirds – but ranting and huffs.
Then came the pop. Coming down the steep hill past the horses, my ankle had had enough. I was due to get on a plane later that day for an extended trip coaching abroad. “Why me?” I thought, limping home on my long-suffering companion-turned-crutch. “Because,” came the voice in my head, “you weren’t watching your next step.”
I find the Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology not only an excellent way to organise and live one’s life, but an interesting way to think about life itself. That is, answering “What’s your desired outcome?” and “What’s the next step?” are not only good ways to clear out your inbox, but to place your focus where it counts.
Doing so has become more precious than ever. Walking past the newspapers on display outside our local shop, or browsing social media on some ubiquitous screen, it seems to me that so many headlines are engineered to provoke indignation and outrage. The topics vary, but the intent is the same. And most of these topics are not (and should not be) anywhere on my project list.
Why then did I let “Take lovely walk with lovely person in lovely countryside” get overtaken by the unplanned action “Pontificate about unpleasant situation largely outside my control”? I suppose the grandiose is tantalising. The mythological Greek figure of Tantalus – from whom we get the word -was condemned to hungrily eye seemingly low-hanging fruit, only to have it recede just beyond his grasp whenever he reached out.
More and more, I’ve come to conclude that real satisfaction lies in sticking to my own areas of focus. Within those “gardens” that are mine to tend lies not only pleasure but productivity – real fruits that I can enjoy. Staying resourceful, controlling what I can control, and supporting those around me won’t win me any prizes. But it certainly has deep rewards.
Now, I’m not advocating a cloistered life, or one spent in isolation from the zeitgeist. It just seems to me that in a world that has become increasingly adept at pulling our attention away from the real work that is ours to do, continually returning to well-defined actions and outcomes has become something of a survival skill. The alternatives are simply too painful.
So if, like me, you’ve been limping along in a grumpy haze, I encourage you to consider what is yours to do, create a system to help you do it well, and mind your step as you go. If nothing else, you will save on ankle bandages and paracetamol.
Be well. Mind how you go.