Enforced Idleness - Next Action Associates

Susan Hunter, currently in limbo, works to create order in service and manufacturing organisations, from privately owned SMEs to large international groups, in the UK, Continental Europe and North Africa. Susan is a graduate of London University and has a diploma in Organisational Psychology from INSEAD. She is a certified NLP Practitioner, has imported Basque charcuterie to sell at Borough Market and taught English to Algerians. She speaks fluent French and German and is wrestling with Arabic.

In the modern world we are encouraged to be doing things. Lots of them, and fast. Action heroes, setting goals and getting on with making them happen. In these blogs, for example, there is often an assumption that the readers are over-busy, with references to, “the world coming at you faster”, etc. When I first started reading them, that perspective hit the nail right on the head. So much so that I didn’t even notice the implicit assumption that everyone was busy – it was just ‘reality’.

But now I have the opposite problem. For reasons beyond my control, my life is on hold, and I can’t do much of anything at all. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic about it, but there’s a place I want to be geographically – and things I want to do there – and I can’t go there right now. Maybe never.  

David Allen has said that there are only two problems in life:

  • Problem #1: You know what you want, and you don’t know how to get it. 
  • Problem #2: You don’t know what you want.

I think my situation is a variation on #1: I know exactly what I want, but it seems there’s nothing more I can do to make it happen. It may happen, or it may not, but I’ve exhausted my possible next actions and it seems the outcome is now out of my hands. A big old ‘Waiting For’, that I can’t seem to budge.

To make it more challenging, it has only become clear what the situation actually is over a period of months. I’m back in London because my job in the place I want to be ended, and with it my visa to stay there. In the past, it has generally taken three weeks to get a new one. This time, six months into the process, I’m still waiting. Friends comment enviously about how nice it must be to be “on holiday”. The Consulate tells me to “be patient”. But for how long?

Nobody knows.

For the first two or three months, I told myself that there are worse places to be stuck than London. It was good to catch up with friends, go out, eat nice food. It’s also been an opportunity to knock my systems into shape and do all those little admin-y tasks that I never normally have time for. It was so good I even got to feeling a bit anxious – what if I get used to this rhythm and don’t want to go back to my normal pace when my visa arrives?

But after a while I realised that this could take another six months… or a year… or it could be fixed tomorrow… or never. How to manage the uncertainty and hang on to my sanity?

In spite of the dramatic change in my life, I notice that GTD® is still a huge help to me. Three GTD habits have been particularly helpful:

  1. Regular reviews help me to identify and clarify alternative (interim) goals – even when the key goal is on hold. I can at least make the most of a situation that I haven’t chosen to be in. At some point, these reviews of the higher horizons may well help me to decide that I do need a new goal after all.
  2. Clearly identified next actions get me out of bed in the morning. Well defined next actions (which don’t come naturally to a broad-brush person like me) are a great way to keep the interim projects moving forward. It’s all too easy to procrastinate if there is no externally imposed deadlines, so it’s very satisfying to feel that I’m achieving something each day.
  3. Clean boundaries stop displacement activity and busy work taking over. For me, this is key to staying positive. Planning treats and time off – from this off time – is vital, even if everyone else thinks I’m on a permanent holiday.

It may be too early to identify actual benefits in this saga, as a well-intentioned friend suggested I might, but GTD is certainly helping me to stay motivated in a situation where I could easily fall into inertia.

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