A blank piece of paper can solve all the problems and mysteries of the world. Well, in my little world at least, it is a trick that has certainly worked wonders. In business and for personal matters, when things seem cluttered or decision making is difficult, a crisp, white, blank piece of paper seems to save me every time. A blank piece of paper can magically make the impossible seem possible. With that one clean piece of paper, you have a chance to take back control or a moment to start over.
You know the feeling, don’t you? You sit down at your desk and survey the scene. You phone is blinking with unanswered messages, you are drowning in email backlog, your calendar seems to be double-booked until Christmas and the piles of files resemble a fortress, protecting you from anyone who tries to enter your office to discuss anything that might require you to do any more work. When everything seems urgent, where on earth do you start?
When you are overloaded and busy beyond measure, this is exactly the time you need to stop, breathe and map things out. I know it seems hard to believe, but give it a try. Get some paper and a pen, find a quiet place away from distraction and then just think. Start writing or drawing or mind mapping. Write lists or schedules or ideas. Scrawl down a bunch of swear words if you think it will help. Lay it all out on paper. Transcribe what is going on in your head.
The next step is to start to make connections to find a way through your thoughts. Perhaps use a different coloured pen to literally draw circles and connecting lines across the page. Alternatively, write positive words or ideas to counter any negative thoughts or number each line in order of priorities. Turn the mess on the page into a plan to move forward. Acknowledge the issues then focus on the solutions. Flip the page over and write up some simple resolutions or action points that feel manageable and achievable.
I’m sure psychologists would have some specific medical terms or titles to describe this process, but I just call it Thinking Time. People who work with me would often see me steal my preferred A3 sized paper out of the photocopier draw (I can never find the stash in the stationery cupboard). I find my best Thinking Time happens after lunch. I try to find an empty meeting room or close my office door. Using a red pen I just sit and think and sort my thoughts. I find a 20 minute session is usually enough to get some clarity and confidence about what needs to happen next.
While Paper Power is brilliant in times of stress, it is even better if you use it regularly each week or month to keep things on track and maintain a positive outlook.
We used this technique with our overscheduled son this week. We could see he was cracking under the pressure of school and sport and high expectation – mostly of himself. He was tired and generally unpleasant – far from his normal state. We started with a blank page on the table and together added activity after activity until he could see his packed weekly schedule laid out in black and white. He could visualise the peak times and appreciate the gaps – precious space and time to relax and enjoy just being a kid. The perspective was valuable and provided immediate relief to us all.
The power of the magic blank page cannot be underestimated. Try it today.
What methods do you use to find order and see clearly in work and in life?