A Pilot’s Take on “Mind Like Water”

This is the first guest post on GTD for CIO’s from my friend, co-worker and fellow GTD enthusiast David Freedman.

In 2008, I earned my private pilots license and bought a small airplane which I fly primarily for leisure.  I want to reflect upon 2 general aspects of my training which were fundamentally aimed at maintaining “Mind Like Water” while exercising this exciting new privilege and ensuring that I live to tell about it. They are:

  1. Do routine things exactly the same way every time.
  2. Get stuff out the way when there is no pressure to make things easier on you when there is pressure.

Do Routine Things Exactly the Same Way Every Time

In flying, there are all sorts of routine operations before, during and after flight.  We are trained to perform those operations identically every time and we use checklists to reinforce that behavior.  This rigorous routine produces predictable results.  We make sure not to cause our own emergencies by forgetting small things that make a big difference.  Further, with practice, routines can be executed very efficiently leaving the mind with time to think about those factors that are unique to a given flight.

Consider how this might apply to your daily life.  Have you ever been unable to find your keys?  Have you ever been unsure if you would have enough gas to get you to  your next destination?  Have you ever shown up to work in your suit and tie and realized you forgot to put on your belt? These sorts of situations cause a bit of anxiety at the least, taking up precious mindspace with looping thoughts and material negative impact on your results at the worst.  What sorts of routines could ensure that these mundane tasks are executed correctly every time?

Get Stuff Out of The Way When There’s No Pressure to Make Things Easier On You When There is Pressure

There are times during flight when we are cruising and it’s real easy to simply drift off and observe the beauty of the skies and colorful contours of the earth below. It’s during these times that we are trained to ask ourselves “What can I be doing right now to prepare for what’s next?”  I might tune the radio I’m not using for my destination frequencies.  I might check weather at the destination to see if current conditions match the forecast.  I might check pilot reports to see if there is any reported turbulence enroute so that I can give my passengers the heads up and reassure them that turbulence, while jarring, is normal and safe.  Why do this instead of staring and the vista above and below?  Landing is a high workload phase of flight.  In other words, a pilot must do many things simultaneously.  The more I can get out of the way ahead of time, the more I can focus on flying the plane and therefore landing safely.  What times during your life are high pressure and which are low?  Can you shift workload to make those high pressure situations a little easier?

My Implementation Of These Two Concepts

The following are a few of my personal routines which are geared toward producing predictable results, reducing workload during high pressure situations and ultimately freeing up mindspace for the present moment.

1.  Pack my work cloths and gym back the night before – My brain is mush at 5am.  I’m likely to make mistakes.  When I pack my things the night before, I increase the probability of making it to the gym to about 90% and increase the likelihood that I have everything I need to 99%.
2.  Fill up my gas tank on Sundays – I don’t how much gas I do or don’t have in my tank, this ensures that I’ll never run out of gas or need to make a gas stop during the week when my time is scarce.
3.  Carry a Murse (Man Purse) – I carry a Tumi man bag.  This may not be for everyone, but here’s how I use it.  I have a set of items that I use at least once a week.  I ALWAYS keep these items in the same pockets and I always put them back after I use them…100% of the time.  I can find those items without even looking down because I can visualize exactly where they are.  My Murse is always in the same location as me and on my body if appropriate.  At home and work, I always put my murse in the same place. The contents are:
  • Car Keys/Airplane Keys – Outer pocket #1
  • Wallet/Cash – Outer pocket #2
  • Pen – Inner pen sleeve
  • Pocket knife – Inner pocket next to pen
  • Flash light (typically for walking dogs) – inner pocket next to knife
  • Business cards – inner pocket next to pen
  • Paper items going to/from work/home – large inner pocket
  • Motorola Xoom (I’m an Android Guy) – Main Pocket

4.  Arrive at work before 7:30am every day – My first meeting of the day is typically at 9am.  Given myself 90 minutes in the morning allows me to eat, -re-review the day’s calendar and do any last minute meeting preparation, review my next actions and return emails that came in late.  I begin my official workday feeling calm and organized. On the rare occasion that there is some catastrophic delay on my commute, I’m still not late to my first meeting.
5.  Food everywhere – I keep snacks in the car, at work and at home, which I buy on the weekend.  There is no bigger productivity killer than low energy and no better way of ensuring adequate energy than making sure healthy food is available the moment you need it.

About Michael Keithley

2 Responses to A Pilot’s Take on “Mind Like Water”

  1. Lawrence says:

    Nice article. LOL at murse.

  2. Love the post, and the ‘murse!’ Well done!

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