Friday, 4 July 2008

Getting organised

A confession: My natural inclination is towards a vaguely tidied up version of chaos (see previous post about my pantry as an example). I focus & work well under pressure, and I'm a very good procrastinator, which tends to create pressure where it really isn't necessary.

The problem: This is all very well on occasion, but as a regular, on-going thing it's not particularly sustainable, in terms of health, family harmony or the smooth running of life in general. I spend a lot of time looking for things (often for the husband and children), starting and not finishing projects, gathering information and ideas that I can't find when I eventually get round to needing them, skimping on important things like sleep, exercise & having fun with the children, doing things that I actually enjoy, and so on. And the kids have a cranky mummy far too often.

What am I doing about it? My chiropractor mentioned a system called Getting Things Done, which has been around for a few years, and which he has found useful in running his practice & home life. Being the compulsive information-gatherer that I am, I immediately came home and Googled it, read up on it, agreed that it sounded like a good idea (get things out of your head and onto paper or into an electronic data collector, organise them, and do them - Wikipedia summary), and then was put off by the jargon & reliance on geeky technology that made it all far more complicated than it really needed to be. I also wasn't particularly interested in paying for the book (or the Italian leather desk accessories!).

The next step was to ask the chiropractor's wife (who happens to be a friend) about her experience with this system, and whether it was worth buying the book and investing time in setting it up. She recommended a slightly different system, which is how I came across Zen to Done (thanks K!). I started reading, and something resonated with me about this approach. It's very simple, and a progressive thing - you don't need to download your entire life before you start. In fact, I already had the tools - I just wasn't using them as well as I could - so that's where I'm starting.

I have a (paper) diary, and I use the Mozilla Sunbird calendar, which includes a simple task section to track my work projects. We also have a calendar on the fridge for family activities.

Initially I'm focussing on a combination of steps 1, 2 & 3 in Zen to Done (Collect, Process & Plan). As part of Step 1 - Collect I am getting into the habit of carrying a small notepad with a pen, and writing down things I need to remember at the time I get the information or thought. Sometimes I write notes on my hand, sometimes I have little bits of paper or appointment cards floating around in my bag or pocket, and sometimes I still try to remember things until I get home, but I'm trying to use the notepad more consistently.

Step 2 - Process. At least once a day, I transcribe everything. I have a pile of papers and other things to the left of my keyboard, and the immediate aim is for it not to grow! I put calendar items straight into Sunbird, and then either file the note or recycle it. I put contact details into my computer address book (no more looking for a scrap of paper with a phone number!). I put bills into my diary a day or two before their due date (no more late fees!). I open, read & process mail & email. The general rule of thumb is to start at the top and make a decision about every item - delete, deal or defer. Delete or throw out anything you don't need to keep. Deal immediately with anything that will take less than two minutes. Defer bigger jobs and add them to your to-do list (put them in a designated place so you know where to find them when it's time for action - paperwork in a file, sewing repairs on the sewing table and so on). I am working on processing ALL new items EVERY day, and a couple of extras so I will eventually get to the bottom of the pile.

Step 3 - Plan. Each evening before bed, I write a to-do list for the following day in my diary. Appointments go in at the allotted hour, things to be done first thing in the morning go at the top of the page (washing, school notes to go back, etc), paid work projects are listed, then volunteer tasks (e.g. preschool newsletter) and in the notes section at the bottom of the page I add non-time-critical domestic tasks (sewing repairs, phone calls to be made, bills to be paid, etc.). Some of these are things that are already in the calendar, but I find the act of writing them down helps to clarify priorities and works as a reminder. I asterisk a couple of must-do tasks - MITs - Most Important Things or Big Rocks according to Zen to Done, and they're the things I aim to do first the next day.

What's next?
4 do (focus). Habit: do one task at a time, without distractions. This is one of the most important habits in ZTD. You must select a task (preferably one of your MITs) and focus on it to the exclusion of all else. First, eliminate all distractions. Shut off email, cell phone, Internet if possible (otherwise just close all unnecessary tabs), clutter on your desk (if you follow habit 2, this should be pretty easy). Then, set a timer if you like, or otherwise just focus on your task for as long as possible. Don’t let yourself get distracted from it. If you get interrupted, write down any request or incoming tasks/info on your notepad, and get back to your task. Don’t try to multi-task. See How NOT to Multi-Task for more.
This will be the big test for a procrastinator like me ...


Apprentice Domestic Goddess said...

OK, you're inspiring me! :)

How's it going a few days in?

karenmc said...

Slowly slowly ... I have many years of bad habits to undo, so it may take a while, and between school holidays, a few days away, and household illness things have been thrown into a bit of chaos. But I am getting back into the habit of writing my to-do list in my diary each night, and I did have to clean the pile of papers on my desk off to fit the new laptop (mind you, most of the pile was just transferred elsewhere, but I'll work on keeping the desk clear - one step at a time!). With school term routines starting again on Monday, I should get back on track properly.