Monday, September 04, 2023

Project failure

This week marks six months since I started using the personal organisation system I designed for myself, something I talked about at the time. This week, I’ll publish several posts talking about what worked, what didn’t, and the things I’ve learned. I thought I’d start with something that hasn’t worked at all: The section to track projects.

The next-to-last section in my ring-binder is the “Activity Monitor”, which I intended to use to log and track progress on on my projects. I’ve never used it. It was actually one of the first parts of the system I finished, but I soon encountered a stumbling block: That list of projects that begins the section (empty page in the photo above). I realised that it was potentially a lot of handwriting, something I don’t like doing any more. So, in February, a month before my post about the whole system, I started typing up a list of all my projects using my iPad and the Notes app, which is accessible on all my devices. I listed 13 projects before I stopped, intending to return to it and add to the list. I never did.

I planned to make the list match the look and layout for the page in the photo, so the pages will all be neat and legible—and the list in alphabetical order. While I never did that, I did complete two of the outside projects I'd listed, as well as some other ones that weren’t on that list.

The whole reason I wanted that section was that I keep forgetting about projects, even when they’re right in front of me. I’ve dubbed this “project blindness”, a name inspired by a concept called “time blindness” which is basically “the inability to recognize when time has passed or to estimate how long something will take,” something I’ve dealt with for decades, and something that’s become worse in recent years.

My “project blindness” means that I can be completely oblivious to projects, even as I’m also aware they exist. For example, I have a hand-towel holder to install in the en suite, and it’s in its box laying on the window sill, and has been for up to two years. I know that because I installed the matching toilet roll holder in the en suite in September, 2021 and took a photo of it (because I intended to do a post about the project once I'd installed the other pieces). I use the en suite very day, and whenever I’m going to the sink or facing the window in there, I “see” the towel holder—except I don’t. If I truly saw the thing, I’d either do the project or put the box in the vanity, but I don’t because it’s presence doesn’t really register (defensive me again, I had trouble deciding on the best place to install it, and that led to the project fading from my awareness).

The problem, then, that I’m simultaneously aware of projects and oblivious to them. That’s not procrastination: I’m not putting off the projects, they’re simply not even in my “there” for me, not really. And that was precisely what the “Activity Monitor” section was supposed to fix.

Here’s the paradox: Because of my “project blindness”, I’m simultaneously aware of and oblivious to projects, so I need a system to track them. And yet, listing them in my ring-binder is itself now yet another project that I’m simultaneously aware of and oblivious to because I don’t use the tracking system—and that loop never ends. Maybe I should just be glad that none of the projects is important.

This one aspect of my system is both a failure and essentially non-existent because I’ve never used it—and never even tried to use it. If I can get it into my awareness long enough, maybe I can fix that, but, to be brutally honest, this doesn’t actually bother me, even when I think about all the small projects that have been undone for more than three years now. This part is still a work in progress.

The final section in my ring-binder is the “Ideation Station,” which I’ve also never used, but I rarely used the original version three decades ago, either. The point of it is to give me a place to hash out ideas, etc., as I’ve done for decades, but usually using sheets of paper, notepads, etc. It doesn’t matter if I ever use that section, because it was meant to be there if I ever needed it. I only printed out five sheets, anyway.

There are other sections in that ring-binder that have worked as I intended, and I’ll talk about them in upcoming posts. I’ll also talk about one section that has its own backstory. something that was going to be the subject of its own blog post several years ago. Actually, I have a few other years-delayed posts to do—maybe I should put them on my projects list. No, I have a better plan for that sort of thing.

Right now, though, I have to use the ring-binder one last time for the day.

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