The following, found in the Artscroll Pirkei Avos: Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, has been on my mind recently:
R’ Chanoch Henach of Alexander relates the following story…
A hoplessly diorganized fool determined to organize his life by recording the whereabouts of all his belongings. Before going to sleep, he dutifully wrote: “My clothing is hanging in the closet, my shoes are beside my bed and my head is in my bed (under the covers).” Upon arising, he found his clothing and shoes exactly where he had specified but his head was nowhere to be found-not even in his bed! The mussar haskil of the story: It is not sufficient for peripheral matters to be in place, unless my head, the core of my all my thoughts and actions, is also in place (Maggidei HaEmes).
I know, for myself, that when I’m busy I tend to focus on the details of what I’m doing. At times, those details tend to overshadow the real goals that I’m aiming for. It’s the story above that I think about when I find myself spending more time than needed on any given task. Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm, taught that when getting ready to perform a mitzvah one needs to “take time, be exact, and unclutter the mind”. In order to clear one’s head, you first need to know where your head is!