Friday, September 08, 2023

It became more than a plan

My personal organisation system started out simply as a quest to find solutions, and then it became more involved. I took stock of myself, saw what others did, and that eventually led to my system. All of that is at the core of why my system’s worked for me, and in the final of this mini-series, I’ll talk in more detail about how this system came to be, and what I’ve learned along the way, especially the fact that sometimes, taking the time to think things through makes all the difference.

As I’ve said a few times, my system began because I had a lot of trouble focusing, and that meant that I often forgot about things, including important stuff. That left me feeling bad about myself, and that my life wasn’t under control. How could I move into whatever my new life is going to be if I was languishing in the chaos and disorder between what was and what will be? I needed to find ways to change all that.

The first thing I did was to start regularly using the Reminders and Calendar apps on my Mac and devices, something that predates my organisation system by a couple years (I first talked about it in February, 2021). Their strength is that they can send alarms to me on every device I use (including my watch) so that I can remember to do important things (like take my prescriptions on time). But it wasn’t enough.

For much of my adult life, I’ve had trouble with time management, and also with focus. Time problems caused me never-ending trouble, but problems with focus led to memory problems, something I at first blamed on my medication (including in several posts on this blog). Since doctors never seemed to take that complaint seriously, I decided I needed to find workarounds for those challenges.

My next step was to try and find out what organisation systems people with similar challenges used, and that led to me to to YouTube videos. A lot of them were irrelevant: Maybe they were selling something, or maybe they were pushing the motivational mumbo jumbo popular among some ambitious folks. I wasn’t climbing a corporate ladder or trying to build an entrepreneurial empire: I just wanted to make sure I paid my damn bills on time, and remembered to take care of routine stuff around the house and in my life.

Still, this process gave me ideas for fine-tuning the system I was designing. First, I stepped up use of the Reminders app in particular, using it for literally any task I wanted to be sure I did. The “What’s Up?” section of my ring-binder was meant for logging tasks that I’d like to get done on a particular day—but no pressure: If I do, I do, but if I don’t, I just move the task to another day.

Among the most transformative sections was the “Somewhere Safe” section because it meant I no longer tried—and repeatedly failed—to remember where I put stuff. This dramatically reduced mental clutter, but it also meant that I no longer beat myself up for forgetting where I put things, with the predictable, “Why didn’t I write down where I put that?!” After I created my ring-binder, I did write that stuff down, and in a place where I could find it again (that ring-binder). So far, I haven’t “re-lost” anything. Sadly, the new system hasn’t made previously re-lost stuff magically reappear, however, I’ve noticed that I often visualise where somethingnot in the book may be (only sometimes correctly).

Taken together, my system helps me remember things I need to remember, and that means I don’t forget to pay a bill or to do a certain task on time. This has reduced my stress, worry, and self-berating, which is in many ways the most important thing about it.

However, it’s not perfect—at least, not yet. For example, I’ve come to realise that I need a way to keep track of things I need to know, but keep forgetting. My line trimmer is an example: The first few times I put new line in, I needed to look up the instructions, which I first had to find. I don’t need to do that particular thing any more (because I do it often enough that I remember), however, there are plenty other things that I rarely do and forget. I need to write down directions for doing stuff—but where am I going to keep them so, ya know, I can find them again? I’m in the final stages of designing that (more to come).

I’ve also begun realise I need an attitude shift. For many, many years, I’ve always put creative endeavours to the side, as a “nice to have”, something to be treated as a mere hobby. This led me to undervalue what is, to me, probably the most important work I do.

I used to push blogging and podcasting (along with every other creative pursuit) to the side, to be worked on if I had time. Part of that was because I had very real responsibilities to Nigel, our little family, and our household. That always came first. However, I still tried to steal some time here and there to do creative stuff, and then my poor time management and time-blindness created too my time crunches affecting my completion of routine chores—which caused me stress and distress.

I always felt I needed to schedule things—including creative stuff—so my obligations and my inner spark could all be satisfied. I never did, and that’s (technically) a regret, because if I’d done that, I would’ve been much happier and I would have been able to do more for Nigel, to help him be happier, too.

On May 24 of this year, I suddenly returned to weekly podcasting, though I didn’t know that at the time. I hadn’t planned it, and that particular day I certainly wasn’t thinking about future episodes—it just happened, and for sixteen weeks in a row so far. What changed was that I made it easy for myself: I scheduled it every week in the “What’s Up?” section of my ring-binder.

That hasn’t worked for everything.

I’ve continued to have trouble finding time to blog, something I talked about a bit in a post a week ago today. I put blogging on my daily planner, just like I schedule podcasting on Wednesdays, with little progress. What’s going on, I think, is simple: I haven’t started treating blogging—or any writing—as a regular task to do. Writing is usually far more time-consuming than podcasting (which also helps explain the difference in productivity, I think), but I always felt I should treat it like a job, with attention and commitment similar to what paid work gets. I have ideas for dealing with this, too.

In the meantime, though, the important thing about all of this is that I took stock of how I operate, including how my brain works, and also the obstacles I needed to overcome in order to achieve what I need and want to do. My system works for me because I first looked at myself, then at ways other people dealt with similar challenges, mashed it all together, and kept an open mind for changes and improvements. Sometimes, taking the time to think things through really does make all the difference.


"My new projected system" – My first blog post in which talked about the system.
"As if to prove the point" – My system hit a snag only days into it.
"Project failure" – The first post in this mini-series 6 months into using the system.
"Safe indeed" – The second post in this series, about a success.
"Six months knowing what’s going on" – The third post in this mini-series, about another success.

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