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Close Kitchen Doors and Unleash Your Power

Ever walk through your kitchen closing cupboard doors and drawers?  Maybe you’re like me and go around closing the open lockers in the locker room at the gym.  Why do we close them?  Perhaps, they’ll in get in the way as we walk through and slow down our progress.  In addition, before I leave the house I make sure everything is in its normal place.  I feel complete and ready to go out.  Unfortunately, it is not so easy to close doors in our head.   Those doors swinging around in our minds slow us down in getting on with actual life.   Back before I ‘retired’, the open projects were managed by the circumstances of the job.  Things needed to get done and the time available was limited.  I was always on the go, making lists and checking things off.  There is a natural momentum in a highly scheduled lifestyle.  The focus goes from ‘what do I have to do’ to ‘what do I want to do?’  It is a shift from external locus of control to an inner. 

Rat Race or
One of the little advertised facts of retirement is that many individuals who go from employee to retiree fail in that transition.  Either they (especially men) get depressed and die quickly or bored they return to work.  Surveys indicate that most of these returnees to work do so to feel useful and productive.  That is not a bad thing.  If the return to work is not due to financial necessity or a burning passion, perhaps it is a default solution to managing one’s newly free time.  But for many Boomers, it may conflict with long held dreams to finally do whatever they wanted.  A website has compiled the world's most common goals and in the top fifty nothing is even vaguely like kicking back or relaxing.   For growth and fun, why not grow the powerful skill that entrepreneurs all practice:  Self motivation and management.  Most of us adapted to the work world and defer ultimate authority to our bosses.   As employees we have a built-in system that channels our time.  Without the job structure to produce results, it is easy to start projects then get distracted.  Unfinished projects don’t go away, they linger in the background of our lives like ghosts haunting us.   Sometimes depression appears and then the thought arises that work is more fun than retirement.  Then they get back on the hamster wheel.  Don't rat yourself out, identify incomplete projects or goals or dreams; from planting an organic garden in the backyard to starting that on-line business to taking the class in origami. Now, start closing the doors.
Lately, feeling a gnawing unease I was given noted productivity guru David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  In spite of my self talk that I didn't have to be productive,  a light bulb went off in my head and I began to conceive of this stage of life, retirement from the daily 40+ hour grind, as a project.  And it consisted of many sub-projects.  It is not a vacation and therefore deserves the attention and planning that I gave to my career in education.  Allen considers all aspects of life a project.  He encourages individuals to get control of all of the projects in their lives from maintaining the house, to keeping fit, to career advancement, to child rearing.  You name it. 

Close that hula loop & swing
Like many people, I had many dreams that I wanted to pursue when I had the proverbial free time.  Some of these I wrote down as goals or vision statements but after awhile I noticed how many of these ideas seemed to stall.  In surveying my life’s goals and bucket lists, I noticed what Allen calls ‘open loops.’  Loops that are closed have a beginning and end and are complete.  Open loops leak energy.  I started looking at various domains of my life from this perspective and noticed many things seemed to get stuck in the idea or conceptual stage or maybe at the beginning.  A lot of open loops can clutter our minds and sap energy.  I looked at the projects in my life from planning a trip to remodeling the house to getting the car tuned up to learning badminton.  After identifying the open loops, it gets real simple and powerful, 'What is the next action step?' Do it, close the loop, and move on!

If it is planning a trip, then the next step might be looking up flights to the intended destination.  If it is repairing the house, calling the contractor for estimates.   The main thing is to stay with the concrete and not the long term.  When we think about many projects, they are either big and complicated, or vague and mysterious or even just hard.  The perceived difficulty can stop us before even starting and we end up with a lot of open loop projects.   Is that so bad?  Well, not necessarily but in that case Allen recommends a Maybe/ Someday folder for those projects we are not yet committed to.  By moving a project into the action folder, we are saying we want to get this done. 

How does your kitchen look?
In my case, I gathered up those goals, projects, and tasks and listed each one from auto repair to Zambia trip.  In the collection process I ended up deleting of what turned out to be ideas, not projects and fantasies not dreams. Anything remaining was assigned an action step.  One longstanding project was remodeling the front of my house, therefore the next action was to call the contractor.  Immediately, upon calling him I felt energized.   By taking action, I felt more productive.  Studies show that minor successes can create as much endorphin rush as major ones.  Find your open loops, take action steps, and bask in the positive vibes of being your own boss.


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