Vacations are a double-edged sword…

On one hand, you absolutely NEED them.  And the less work-y and the more vacation-y the better.

You should turn off your phone.  You should not log on.  You should go “radio silent.”  And no, you shouldn’t pay for the international data roaming or whatever extra you can pay to keep the silicon mainline 24/7, even when you’re “off.”

(Dan Sullivan, of Strategic Coach, often shares that his concept of Free Days — regular pre-scheduled days where you’re not allowed to do ANYTHING related to work — are his most revolutionary concept for entrepreneurs to adopt.)

Your mind needs time away.  It needs time to rejuvenate.  It needs a break.

You need silence.

But then, you also need to be able to step back in and be effective after being gone.

Because suddenly you have a vacation’s-worth of email piled up.  You have all those things that were looming at you before you left, just waiting for you to come back so they can loom again.  You probably rushed to hit a few deadlines before you took off, but you’ve got even more now that you’re back.

You need to be able to get back on track, fast.

Or…  And this happens to me even more often…

You get caught up in one thing, to the detriment of the others.  There’s not enough time in the day or week to keep your finger on the pulse of everything.  And you have one thing you need to focus on NOW.  So you do that, and you hold off on the other things for a minute.

But then, you need to be able to get back on track, fast.

You need to reorient yourself to all your obligations and projects and promises, and (at a minimum) touch base or pick up where you left them and start making progress, fast.

I still sometimes suck at this…

But this week, I remembered the lesson that I’ve often forgotten.  And it’s led to me starting this week pretty effectively.

And this is good.

Because summer is winding down.

It’s August.  Only five months left in the year.

Kids are going back to school.

And fall is coming fast, with all the momentum it can offer.

Getting back on track, fast, is both important and powerful — today.

And it can be remarkably simple, with one little exercise.

Here’s the secret to getting back on track, fast…

First, grab your weapon of choice.  A mind map.  Or a pad of paper and a pen.

Now, set a timer.  50 minutes is a really good time, a la Dean Jackson and his 50-Minute Focus Finder.  I’d do this for at least 30 minutes.  And anything more than 60 could drag on too long.

Now, for as long as the timer is going, start writing everything that’s on your mind.

All those tasks you need to get done.  Everything that’s been bugging you.  Every little thought that has flown through your head.

Don’t filter.

Don’t stifle yourself.

Don’t try to assign meaning.

Just — if you’re thinking of it, write it.

Get it all out.

When the initial flood subsides, consider any project lists you have.  Any other obligations, as part of work or personal life.  Do a mental scan.  A mind sweep, in David Allen’s Getting Things Done terminology.

Don’t get lost in chasing ideas elsewhere.  (E.g., you might want to look at your inbox to do this, but don’t spend more than 3-5 minutes there, and DON’T start reading or responding to emails.)

Just write down what needs your attention, what little tasks you need to do, what outcomes you need to ensure are created.

When it gets hard because you think you’ve thought of everything, sit with it.  Let even more ideas flow.  They’re in there.  You just have to shut up the chatter and let them come out.  The way you shut up the chatter is that you acknowledge what it’s saying by writing it down.

When time is up, do this…

Once you’re through this initial mind sweep or brain dump session, you can filter what you’ve created.

Some of it was truly irrelevant chatter.  You can keep it on an “irrelevant chatter” list, or simply discard it.  Other things are immediate to-dos, needing to get done ASAP.  Those should be on a “do ASAP” or “next actions” list.

Other items represent projects or longer-term commitments.  Consider these four questions for each:

— What is it?

— Why am I doing it?

— What does done look like?

— What’s the next action required to move it forward?

From there, transfer the project to your “projects” lists, written in such a way that represents what done looks like.  “Submit completed draft of sales letter to Client XYZ.”  And for the next action that came up, “email Client XYZ to confirm offer details and final bonus list,” put that on your “next actions” list.

And there are a few ideas from your brainstorming you probably want to keep, but not do anything with today.  Those can go on a “someday maybe” list where you’re simply holding them until you’re ready to discard them or deal with them.

I challenge you to do this and NOT feel ready to dive back in…

In fact, doing this process can be difficult, only because you’ll be chomping at the bit, ready to work before you’re done.

That’s okay if the tasks will take two minutes or so.  When you were brainstorming, you realized there was an email to answer TODAY, and it won’t take long.  You were good about not answering it immediately, so you could finish brainstorming.  But you wanted to get it answered ASAP, so you did that quickly in the organization session.  Check it off your list as done — great!

But for anything longer than a couple minutes, let the planning session happen, then decide what next action you’re ready to take on.  You now have a list.  And you know it’s relevant in the context of everything you need to take on.

And suddenly, you’re back on track and in the thick of things, ready to go out and create some breakthroughs.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

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