Wake Up! Don’t Use Checklists and Process To Let You Sleepwalk Through Life

by Randy Murray on April 20, 2010

The other day my wife said, “You left the stove on again.”

I don’t doubt she was right – and I caught myself almost doing it again today. It’s dangerous (gas, fire!) and wasteful. And I’m normally very careful about that sort of thing. So how did it happen?

I was operating on autopilot. When I prepare our morning omelets, I have a very clear, step-by-step process, but when I simply drive through the steps, it’s easy to let the process carry me along. My last steps are to turn the burner down to low, remove, dry, and put away the pizza pan I use as a skillet cover, then slide the finished omelet onto a plate. THEN turn off the burner. But if I’m flying through the steps, it’s easy to miss that last one. I’m in a hurry to get the plate to the table and eat. Leaving the burner on is easy to miss.

Once I became aware of that flaw in my process and having had to be told that I’d left the burner on twice, I noticed that I was also surfing through other steps. I know the process so well I don’t have to think about it.

Well, there’s the problem.

Unconscious mastery is one thing, but sleepwalking is another. To master something lets you perform the task with ease, but only while focused on it. Sleepwalking is the state of performing the task without focusing on it at all. And while sleepwalking, I was doing more than just leaving the burner on. I was letting my mind wander and my results and overall performance were slipping.

Mention “GTD” and a thousand productivity gurus will prick up their ears and prepare to bombard you with checklists, process hacks, and efficiency tips. But none of it will do you any good if you walk through life distracted, asleep, and numb.

If you are going to do a thing, you owe it to yourself, your customer, and those around you, to do that thing well – and not to burn the house down. To do things well, and here’s the Zen part, you need to be mindful of what you’re doing at the present moment. Accept your task, understand why you’re doing each step, and do it fully present. Don’t just check off another step on your checklist.

If you’re going to sleep, sleep. But when you’re awake, engage in your task, focus on each individual moment, and give it your best effort. You’ll avoid the recriminations, smoke damage, and poor results.

  • Share/Bookmark

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mari April 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm

There is also the joy of knowing you have mastered something (probably something worthy of being proud to have mastered or why would you bother to consider yourself a master?), yet you’re unconsciously going through those motions distracted by thoughts of your next task. Joy lost. Engagement and focus do lead to accomplishment and ultimately joy. Going for the joy as often as possible over here!


2 Randy Murray April 20, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Excellent and important point. Being present is the reward. Why let moments of perfection slip by, unnoticed.




3 Rafal April 26, 2010 at 3:28 am

Really enjoyed reading this post. You are touching on very important elements like mindfulness and being present, focus and attention.
With all the distractions that are coming at us, keeping focus is more and more difficult but not impossible.
One of the way I find useful is to clear my head from all the thoughts that are clogging it. I may not do anything about them ever but at least in that moment it helps to get the right amount of free “RAM” to move things forward.

I would think there is a fine line between unconscious mastery and sleepwalking. Sometimes it isn’t easy to figure on which side of the line you’re.


4 Randy Murray April 26, 2010 at 7:15 am

You hit it in that last line. And I think the difference is between loosing oneself in the task, and letting one’s mind wander while performing the task. And sometimes either is good, as long as you recognize what is happening.

Thanks for commenting!



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: