Zen and the Art of Losing My Hard Drive | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Zen and the Art of Losing My Hard Drive

My road to wellness this summer included a long road trip to the Northeast. It was a remarkable, relaxing almost-two-week budget vacation—that ended with my laptop hard drive crashing on the last day in New York. Oh, and my online backup system failed, too (or we had failed on it by not renewing it when it ran out unbeknownst to me). Talk about a Zen test. Yes, I cried several times. More than that, I felt discombobulated in a way I never really had. Suddenly, it felt like my life was adrift. And it kinda was.

This wasn't because I had lost my "history." I have various backup CDs and drives of my old documents and research and such. Even old e-mail. No, this was about my "system"—the system I've spent many hours this year perfecting. Nowadays, I use an online project-management system, which I really ratcheted up this year to help me control all the directions my life moves in. It's much more than a calendar and to-do list; I can literally tie an e-mail to my staff to a certain date in order to "tickle" me to follow it up. I have, er had, "projects" that allow me to feed related e-mails, tasks, notes and more into project pages on various topics. The whole thing is remarkable.

And I lost it. I also lost several months worth of e-mail (so I apologize if I haven't answered you). To be honest, I have always struggled with staying on top of a huge influx of e-mail and other stimuli. Yes, I've chosen that life for myself -- I run a newspaper and constantly start projects, host huge parties and the like. And I've always had a problem answering communications quickly enough, and often have a huge backlog of e-mail and other to-do items. And even though I think very logically, I never learned to manage my time well when I was younger, opting instead to do so much in crisis, resulting in workaholism, which I know now is unhealthy. Nothing really stresses me more than my own disorganization.

But a year ago or so, I was turned on to David Allen's "Getting Things Done" books ("GTD" geeks call it all over the Internet; Google it for 11,200,000 entries). I've learned so much I wish I knew many years ago; talk about the stress it would have saved. For one, it's insanity to carry around to-do items in your head; everything has to be "captured" in a system. Once it's there, it must be organized in a way that makes sense. If it can be done is less than two minutes, you should always do it. And it's imperative to "process" all notes, to-dos, mail, e-mail, etc., at least once a week in order to "empty" the inboxes (haven't gotten there, yet). The goal is to have a "mind like water" that isn't constantly thinking about what it needs to do and allows me to be fully present in whatever I'm doing.

This sounds like nirvana to me, and I'm getting closer to it. Or I was before I lost my system. But there is a meditative value in having to go through this. For one thing, I'm rebuilding my system in a better way even though it takes time. And I've learned that taking the time to back up (in two or three ways) and ensure that your damn subscription doesn't run out is a major way to stay out of crisis mode.

Speaking of crisis mode, my major goal for 2010 is to move both myself and my company out of crisis mode. In the weekly deadline-drive newspaper business, we often ride an unhealthy roller coaster: We get behind, and then we're constantly doing everything in crisis, working too late and stressing out to make the print deadlines -- as a result, our health suffers, we get stressed and irritable, and we make mistakes that we wouldn't make in a more balanced rhythm. So a huge part of my (and the JFP's) road to wellness right now is to institute practices and checkpoints to ensure that we don't exist in crisis (which inevitably burns people out). Granted, not everyone likes the idea of change, even if it means doing things better, but that is the cost of getting better organized. Being a workaholic and working around them is not healthy. So wish us luck as we embark on an attempt to free up psychic ram. I urge you to get a David Allen book (his latest is very good: "Making Things Work"; I saw it remaindered at Books-A-Million recently!).

Otherwise, I am drinking more water, taking vitamins slightly more regularly, going to the gym more with Todd, walking in the morning. I am growing stuff on my deck, and eating lots of fruit—although I tend to let wellness habits slide on deadline. But part of getting out of crisis is shedding the tendency to stress out, forget my healthy habits and then brag/complain about being too busy as if it's a badge of honor. Oh, and I'm also working hard to not talk about being busy.

Now, back to rebuilding that system!

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