Even something as basic as walking can be an amazing metaphor for how we work – and how we can work best. When you have a clear path, you can effortlessly walk without any mental effort. In fact, your body wants to continue moving forward, and will so with ease. You can stop if you need, turn if you need, but any course change requires mental effort.
Running through an obstacle course is a completely different story. Not only do you physically have to be able to overcome an obstacle, you need to mentally be able to navigate and transition to the next item. All of your active brain power must be focused on staying on your feet and keep moving.
Most of us are aware of when we’re in “stroll-mode” and “obstacle course” mode while doing work. We try to avoid obstacle course as much as possible, and work towards stroll-mode on a daily basis. There is one mode that can be deceptive – wandering aimlessly.
Wandering aimlessly is when decision points are created on the spot. Imagine taking a walk in a park and every time something new came into vision, having to asses if you’re going to go in that direction – or even worse, taking a few steps off your course to get a better view. If you have all the time in the world, or absolutely no goal other than to enjoy the scenery, this is wonderful, but with work, there are deadlines and goals, and this can destroy productivity.
Avoid Wandering Aimlessly by using “Discovery”
Discovery is a great way to forge a trail when one does not seem clear. The major different between wandering aimlessly and discovery is that discovery has set decision point spots. Taking the hiking trail example a bit further – you would stake out good lookout points, such as the top of a hill, opening of a river, or existing path. You would work towards that goal and wait to gather information until you have reached your lookout point. From there, you stop and give yourself a set amount of time to discover. During this phase, you look around, get a closer look, and gather as much information (in the time frame you’ve allotted) then make a decision on your next lookout point (or your final destination).
Even when you don’t know where you’re going, keep these tips in mind to remain productive and reduce mental fatigue:
- Avoid obstacle courses
- Use maps and goals to hold your comfortable stride as long as possible
- If you’re unsure where to go – use discovery
- Try not to change direction mid step