The Clear Head – A Vital Tool of an Effective Construction Project Manager

A drawing depicting how the successful construction project manager has a clear head.

The most effective construction project manager can obtain and maintain a clear head.

If your head is clear, then your mind’s full capacity is available for any given problem or undertaking. Often, we attempt to work with only a portion of our mind with the rest distracted by lesser issues. The effective among us will first clear their mind and then discharge their full potential into whatever they choose to do.

Read on to learn the power of the clear head and how to obtain it.

Obtaining a Clear Head

More and more [keeping a clear head] will be a required condition for any of us who wish to maintain balance and consistent positive output in our work and outlook in our life.

David Allen, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”

If you aren’t sure if you’ve ever worked with a clear head, then you haven’t. I say with confidence that if you had, you’d be addicted to its power and settle now for nothing less.

To clear your head, you need somewhere else, somewhere trustworthy to hold its contents. If it isn’t reliable, your brain won’t empty no matter what you try. It will keep hold of these reminders because it doesn’t believe you will remember otherwise, and you probably won’t.

Cartoon successful construction project manager emptying head into trustworthy location (brain dump)

The two main problems with storing reminders in your head are:

  • The brain is terrible at reminding you to do things and so must work extra hard even to try,
  • These reminders take up brain space that you could otherwise use for things the brains excels at; such as idea generation or analytical thinking.

Reminders take up brain space that you could otherwise use for things the brains excels at; such as idea generation or analytical thinking.

If you don’t doubt the brain’s ability to remind, recall the number of times you have entered a room and forgotten the reason you came. Or when you arrived at a destination and realized you left the one thing you needed to bring with you at home. Or when you returned from the supermarket only then to see an empty milk carton that you were supposed to replace.

If there were no other option, we would have to settle for keeping things in our brain-but there are other options. Whether you’re aware or not, most of us have a system for remembering things, so our brain doesn’t have to, a grocery list, for example, to remind us to buy milk. Some have better systems than others, though. What if you forget your grocery list? Is your system smart enough to deal with that?

Almost all the systems I have seen are not good enough or trustworthy enough to allow the brain to empty itself entirely. Therefore its owner doesn’t enjoy the power of the clear head.

How It Feels to Own a Clear Head

“Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer, is totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then, it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.”

-David Allen

David is describing the readiness state, “mind-like-water,” you achieve once your mind is completely clear, allowing you to focus solely on what is in front of you. From that state, you can respond totally appropriately to any demand that comes your way, without distraction or friction.

I would add, however, that the effective construction project manager doesn’t react to a random, or unknown input (pebble). They will select the input to which they wish to react and then respond appropriately to the force. Furthermore, the most effective, rather than a pebble, will choose a boulder and take massive action in response.

When you hold the power of a clear head, which few do, exert it only on things you need or want to do; things that matter. Don’t waste it.

To be effective, you cannot allow others to dictate your actions. You must maintain control of the wheel through the entire day. When work or distractions come your way that you don’t want to suffer, don’t. When you hold the power of a clear head, which few do, exert it only on things you need or want to do; things that matter. Don’t waste it.

Furthermore, make time, at least two hours, in which to take massive action on whatever is most important to you — select boulders, not pebbles.

How it Feels to Work with a Clear Head

When you clear your mind, you unburden it of all distractions that exert resistance on your efforts to focus and move forward. Craig Lambert aptly describes the untethered feeling you get when working with a clear head.

“Rowers have a word for this frictionless state: swing. … Recall the pure joy of riding on a backyard swing: an easy cycle of motion, the momentum coming from the swing itself. The swing carries us; we do not force it. We pump our legs to drive our arc higher, but gravity does most of the work. We are not so much swinging as being swung. The boat swings you. The shell wants to move fast: speed sings in its lines and nature. Our job is simply to work with the shell, to stop holding it back with our thrashing struggles to go faster. Trying too hard sabotages boat speed. Trying becomes striving and striving undoes itself.”

– Craig Lambert quoted in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done

How to Obtain a Clear Head

Thanks to the nature of our industry, it isn’t easy to obtain or maintain a clear head in construction. Read my post about what is wrong with the construction industry. Despite the industry, you must have a clear head to be an effective construction project manager.

I’ve been working with a clear head for the last six years, and the benefits have been of greater magnitude and number than I can count.

As I said earlier, to clear your head, you need somewhere trustworthy to hold its contents; a system where you can place these reminders with full confidence you will see them again when the time is right. Unfortunately, it’s not something I can teach at the bottom of a single post; as much as I would love to help you today.

However, I’m nearing the completion of an online program in which I teach this system as well as every lesson learned that took me from failing low-level engineer to a successful Project Leader in less than two years.

Learn about me and my upcoming programs here →

I highly recommend David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done; The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. My system and my success wouldn’t be what they are without his ideas. Soon I’ll teach you to tailor these ideas to suit our industry, but meanwhile, give it a read! Though be sure to get the updated edition!

Are you looking for something free? Head over to David Allen’s webpage What is GTD? The first three steps cover the theory of obtaining a clear head. At a glance, the information available on his website is limited-I guess he wants you to buy his book, but this gives you a start.

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