An unstoppable stream of thoughts


I am unable to concentrate. Various thoughts, tasks, promises are popping into my head like bubbles pop in a glass of champagne. Every effort to concentrate on a single item is a failure. The only solution I see and I can’t wait until it is a vacation. Oh my, I am counting down the days till holidays. Do I have any plans? Oh no, no way, no this time. I am going to do zero! Alright, you got me, maybe something, but definitely not daily job-related work. I gonna do something valuable for myself. What? I don’t know now, don’t be pushy!

Stream of random thoughts was killing me slowly

Those were my thoughts in December. An unstoppable stream of random thoughts was killing me slowly, draining my battery in a way I started becoming an asshole. In 99.9% of the time, people would suggest taking long vacations and it’s gonna fix itself. Just like that, just go on vacation for God’s sake. Happily, my vacations started on December 22nd and the day people expected me to be back was January 2nd.

I am a man who likes to do things. Not necessary finish things, but definitely start things, play around. Keywords to remember for now are start and finish. If you’d ask me to describe my 2016 I would list a huge number of activities I got involved in, unfortunately, just a fraction of those have a “Completed” tick. Not that I was unable to finish it because of time pressure, lack of money or any force majeure incident. No way. Simply I got bored.

A willingness to do something is also a resource

In order to complete a task, either it’s a unique project or a simple repetitive task, we need resources. Time, money, people (in my case this is a fixed number - myself). The last resource I notoriously had forgotten about many times in 2016 was motivation. A willingness to do something in addition to your regular activities is also a resource. You might have time and money, but if you simply don’t want to finish it, you won’t.

Since I am a man who likes to do things, I made a lengthy TODO list for my vacations. Do this, finish that, read some. Suddenly, all the pressure was moved from the job to my holidays TODO items. I got emerged into it, overwhelmed again by some useless tasks. What the heck man? You waited so long for this week and now what, still anxious but now about another object? Should you visit a doctor maybe?

I started debugging my life

That was the moment I started debugging my recent life. No kidding, 100% serious. Just like you look for errors in a sorting algorithm written in C, Iwanted to find an error in my mental state. Leaking memory, hardware problem or a user using an algorithm with incorrect parameters - something was wrong with me. Since I’d already meditated 50 days in a row using Headspace I knew how to sit and think about nothing. At least, in theory, it never happened in practice. I always got drawn into my thoughts where my mind wanted to solve an insolvable problem. I decided to spend more and more time doing nothing. No watching Facebook or playing games, instead of doing NOTHING. Like a vegetable, looking in front of you and letting go all the thoughts.

Stop starting, start finishing

Has meditation helped me on it own? Not exactly. My girlfriend Laima shared with me an interesting talk by Henrik Kniberg. The talk title got my attention immediately because even without watching a talk I knew what was wrong with me lately. The title of that speech blown my mind, showed a solution on a plate just like a senior developer finds an issue in code in an eye blink where you spend a few hours investigating. The talk was called Stop starting, start finishing. Or in the other words, don’t multitask.

By denying biological limitations I got angrier and angrier

That’s obvious, how could you not known this before? I knew, but I my understanding was too shallow. I thought it’s unsafe to drive a car and play with your radio in the same time. It’s unsafe to write a bike and juggle. To my surprise the latter activity can be mixed safely by putting a lot of effort in practice. You might have already seen people riding bikes, juggling and holding a knife on their nose. Oh did I mentioned that was not a bike, but unicycle. It’s called muscle memory. Hands, arms, legs are moving autonomously, without inference of mind. If a person thinks for a millisecond with what hand he should catch a ball, the show is over. In a bad way for him and a spectacular for watchers. What people can not do is to think about two different actions at the same time. And I was trying to deny my biological limitations and as a result I got angrier and angrier.

Multitasking is just an illusion of getting tasks done faster

Henrik Kniberg, a great Agile coach, in his talk touched upon a problem we all face at work, and some even at home. We want to do more. More and more, did I mention faster? It might look that by starting different activities simultaneously you have a little progress on everything, moving slowly to finish. But since we are a single core processor machines, we switch contexts. Work a bit on this, change context, work on something else, change context. The price of changing the context is HUGE. From project management perspective it much more productive to finish one activity and move on to another. This is the fastest approach while multitasking is just an illusion of getting tasks done faster.

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Focusing of a new idea without letting go an old one results nothing good

The price of switching the context sometimes is low, I’ll just do this one quickly. Oh, this one is simple as well, let’s just dive into it. Don’t get mistaken. There is a hidden complexity waiting for a wretch to stumble into it. Thinking about everything and nothing at the same time. Trying to focus on a new idea without letting go an old one results nothing good. That’s like filling the buffer with crap and then getting surprised when overflow error appears. This happened to me. Even though I was working on one task, my thoughts were running like antelopes in all directions.

The process can be stopped by simply saying stop to your brain spam. Learn to say no

How to solve it? Most importantly, realize what’s happening. Meditation or a great talk on Youtube you identify with, both work fine to identify your possible problem. Once I was able to realize I am not present in the moment, that I think about work while being at home and think about home while being at work, it was pretty simple to take action. Thoughts can be compared to a stream. You accept first thought, you get another, more intriguing, more engaging. The process can be stopped by simply saying stop to your brain spam. Learn to say no.

I'm Valdas Maksimavicius. I write about data, cloud technologies and personal development. You can find more about me here.