As a thirty-something living in New York, I am required by law to be obsessed with two things: The Wire and The West Wing. While is it often the nuances that make me love both of these epic series (except Season 2 of The Wire, but I digress) it is actually one of the more heavy-handed episodes of The West Wing that I continually find myself obsessing over. “Hartfield’s Landing” is an episode in which the President is dealing with a brewing crisis between China while playing concurrent chess matches against both Toby and Sam.
While there is so much loaded into that one hour1, there is one concept that I continually lean on. In fact, I’m actually starting to realize that it has become the center of my philosophy on productivity. It is President Bartlet’s fatherly prodding’s for Sam to “see the board, see the whole board” during their chess games. This idea of seeing all of the pieces, understanding all of the possible moves and then acting with clarity has become a growing obsession. I constantly find myself getting lost, my brain struggling to juggle all of the input that comes along with being an employee, a manager, a husband and a father. And when the going gets tough, it feels hard enough to focus on what is staring me in the face, nonetheless seeing anything close to the full picture.
I’ve spent the better part of my life, and occasionally the better part of my day, fighting off chaos. I struggle against a lifetime of acquired bad habits and a healthy dose of innate ADHD. So much of what I am looking to do with my system, which is a combination of GTD, Merlin Mann’s philosophies, tips and tactics picked up from others2 is to get to the point where I can see the whole board, to take all of the threads of my life and weave them together. It’s an overwhelming goal, especially when you take into account the fact that it is at complete odds with my DNA, but it is what I feel I need to succeed.
I’m a good ways off from seeing the whole board, but I’m certainly starting to see more of it. Little by little, the systems I am putting in place to capture ideas, tasks and appointments are helping me to see more of the picture. The better I get at getting my arms around my responsibilities, the easier it has become to make better choices. The easier I make it to see all of the chaos around me, the less overwhelmed I feel by it.
So, if like me, you struggle to get your arms around life, stop, take a step back and see the board. See the whole board. It is going to take time (a lot of time), it is going to take work (A LOT OF WORK) but slowly, steadily you will begin to see more of the picture, to feel more in control of your life.
Everyone has their own tricks and tips for seeing more of the picture, for finding the clarity to see the whole board. What are yours?