Can you spot the tar balls?

In my last post I wrote about distinguishing between productive creative/organizing jags versus procrastination exercises. Today I found myself in the latter, but it kind of morphed into the former, and it’s all working out well enough.

I have a couple pressing deadlines this morning, including getting ready to play music at Stories in the Sky at the Balloon Museum tonight. I’m still finalizing the set list and really need to practice some of the new songs I just learned. But for some reason I walked into the backyard for something, I can’t remember exactly what (this is the part where I was procrastinating), and was reminded that the roof repair guys yesterday had rained little shiny tar pebbles all over the backyard, including inside my newly planted vegetable garden.

The pebbles were small and light and didn’t really damage anything but I didn’t want the little tar bits in with the growing vegetables. You know, leaching out yucky petroleum compounds and all.

Even though I really didn’t want to get sidetracked, next thing I knew I was hunting tar pebbles in the garden.

As I started picking them out of the dirt, I quickly realized how hard it was to spot them since the dirt and the tar pebbles are almost exactly the same color. Which led to a few other thoughts.

If you let yourself get sidetracked, at least do it right. By the time I let my eyes adjust to seeing the little tar pebbles, I figured I might as well stick with it and finish the job. (This is when my procrastinating turned into a productive cleaning jag.) Professional organizers often preach the “touch it once” rule. As in, when you’re cleaning your desk and you pick up a folder of health insurance receipts, don’t put it to the side to deal with later. Put it where it belongs, then and there, so you don’t have to touch those receipts twice. Same deal with little sidetrack projects. Do them all the way, or don’t start them until later when you have time to finish in one push.

If you can get a little exercise or fresh air while being sidetracked, that’s a good thing. As I started hunting tar pebbles I realized how great it was to be under the sun and moving around instead of at my laptop. Relaxing into a squat in the dirt for a few minutes at a time is incredibly restorative, no joke. Forward bends are great too: I try to remember to do them when I’m picking up after the kids, making a point to stretch and breathe every time I pick up another toy off the floor. It might sound silly to talk about this as “exercise,” but a growing body of research is showing that surprisingly light activity can lead to big benefits in overall health. I can definitely feel the benefits when I remember to break free of my laptop regularly and move around a bit.

Get settled and relax, even if you’re feeling crunched for time. As I stepped into the garden I realized that to find the little sparkly bits of dark tar against the slightly sparkly dark earth, I’d have to squat down and get comfortable so I could let my eyes adjust. Sure enough, as soon as I let myself settle into it, the little tar balls suddenly snapped into focus and I started seeing them all over. If I had tried to rush I would have been all agitated and not nearly as able to focus. Instead, by relaxing, my little task turned into a flow: stretching to reach another tar drop sparkling in the sun, plunking it into my bucket, repeating over and over, one by one, until the garden was pretty much clear.

When you relax and get into a flow, your vision can shift. Getting a flow going can be elusive, but when it happens there’s that great moment when you suddenly see or think about things differently. (I often hear things differently too, like when I can suddenly follow the birds’ conversations and everything else drops away.) When I found my tar-pebble-hunting groove, it hit me that this kind of shift in focus is a lot like the shifts in mental focus that we all need from time to time in order to solve problems or refine strategies. (This is when my cleaning jag turned into a creative jag, as I realized there was a blog post in here somewhere.) This exercise of settling in and relaxing, in order to let your vision change for a moment, is important both to recognize and to be able to do.

With some things, to do them well, you need to be relaxed. And I think thinking is one of those things.



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