The feeling of being ‘disorganized’ is overwhelming. The moment you realize you forgot to make an important call or respond to an important email or worse – completely flaked on someone – can be devastating. “Am I stupid?” you think.
No, you’re just a mess.
“I already knew that.”
The problem is, for most people, including myself we’ve tried to ‘get organized’ and though it feels good for a day or two, we just fall back to our evil ways. Personally, the biggest challenge I face, isn’t remembering things, but that I get easily frustrated. I’ll work to a point where I feel so overwhelmed by the stresses of my projects that I hit a wall and loose all focus. It was a big step for me just to realize that was my problem. When I was living in Waltham, I spent a lot of time feeling ‘lost’ or unable to take another step in completing a simple project.
I want(ed) to overcome. I had been poking around the net for productivity tips and found some great resources. In particular, 43folders and Lifehacker had tons of information. Both seemed to focus on some kind of ancient mystical philosophy known only as GTD. Some more research, corrected my previous inclinations. GTD is actually a book, Getting Things Done, that formed a cult, written by David Allen. After a lot more reading, I decided to cough up the 15$ and give it a whirl.
Off the bat, I was really drawn to the potential results. A life with less stress and more productivity? Who wouldn’t want that? I had a bit of trouble getting through part 1 of the book, which to me, was pretty emblematic of my general gripes against self help books. Particularly, it spent a lot of time talking about how great ‘this system’ was and how much it could ‘change your life’. Somehow, I kept myself from being too skeptical and got through the whole book.
Now its a matter of implementation. After this first read (I plan to read through part 2 and 3 again) I’ve come away with a good amount of ideas. It’s ridiculous to think that any one system can work for everybody. On the other hand, GTD presents some very powerful ideas for how to think about how you handle work. When incorporated and filtered into your own personal workflow, you can see a great improvement in productivity.
I think the biggest lesson I’ve taken away so far is about creating lists. I’ve always created todo lists, on paper and digitally. In trying to ‘get organized’ I would always be rethinking how I store these items, when really my problem was with what I stored. A todo item should reflect a Next action – something that you can physically do and check off your list. This means you cant just write (or type) ‘Finish new RadioTail website’, instead it should be broken down into actual things that can be done to accomplish this goal (‘Add copyright to footer’,’upload new version of template’,etc.). The problem is when you look at your list and see ‘Finish . . .’ the task seems overwhelming, and you just put the list aside. Merlin Mann has a much better and more informative post on this subject.
The point is to create a system that you can trust to keep track of all your items and you can review regularly. Most importantly, when you review your lists, you should immediately know what needs to be done next. I still haven’t finalized my system yet. It’s in the process. More on that in a little bit.