Clear focus and chaotic unpredictability might seem to be opposites, but in order to stay focused on the path to your goals, you must embrace the uncertainty that lies within and around you. As the world’s challenges get more complex, we need to stop treating chaos as a problem to be solved and honor it as the creative ground that it is.
Our Western culture is not very comfortable with chaos. We tend to be results oriented and search for the shortest path to everything we want. We value being as efficient and productive as possible as much as possible. When things feel like they are getting out of control, our tendency as Westerners is to try to clamp down and minimize uncertainty.
But have you noticed that no matter how elegant and powerful your plans and systems may be, they alone are not enough to ensure success?
The real world is unpredictable. We face the outer chaos of information overload, conflicting demands on our time, and unexpected events. We live with our inner chaos, the push-pull of competing dreams, doubts and fears.
But this is exactly what is needed to create a new paradigm world. Albert Einstein once said “We cannot solve our problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” In other words, we cannot plan a major change with our current mindset. And we cannot expect the world to act in linear predictable ways.
So how do we balance the forces of focused planning and creative chaos? By scheduling time for the chaos that is a necessary part of creating something new.
- Build uncommitted time into any project schedule. When I was a software development manager, I would automatically double any estimate a member of my team might make. That allowed space for new feature requests and new ideas as well as random delays. It does require making peace with the part of us that wants to promise the quickest turnaround possible!
- Set aside daily “integration” time into your personal schedule. In your personal life, is every hour of every day filled with activity? If you lie awake at night with your thoughts, it’s a good indicator that you need to set aside time to integrate your day. If you keep stirring a pool of water, it will never settle into clarity.
- What’s needed is time alone with your chaotic thoughts so your mind can roam and make new non-linear connections. Practices to make this time easier for you include journaling or contemplation during mindless household tasks. My favorite method is to just sit and simply reflect on my day at the end – it only takes 5 minutes.
- Balance structure and freedom in your choices. Albert Einstein enjoyed his job as a patent clerk because the simple tasks involved freed his mind to develop his theory of relativity. When I was a software engineer, singing with a vocal improv group was a refreshing contrast. Do your current commitments allow you time to delight in the unexpected?
- Build a direct relationship with your inner chaos. Unexpressed inner chaos often shows up as resistance and even rebellion about “going with the program.” Talk with that part of yourself and find a way for it to express its creative wisdom. One client found it much easier to stay with a time management system when he let his “inner rebel” design it rather than his “inner taskmaster.”
As we embrace all parts of ourselves and the world around us, we are able to bring a fuller, more integrated wisdom to our complex challenges.
What do you see that’s not moving at the pace that you’d like? How might you free up more resources by balancing the forces of clarity and chaos?