Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Organizationally Challenged

I have reached the sad realization that I need external help to keep myself organized. I used to be the kind of person who never needed to-do lists or calendars because I could keep it all straight in my head. I knew what needed to be done and when it needed to be done, I knew what events I had scheduled, and I knew every deadline or due date without writing anything down.

Now, though, if I don't have it written down, it doesn't seem to happen. When I've tried to keep things straight in my head, I've mixed things up. I've been proud of myself for remembering a date by which I needed to send something, only to find that this event had passed and I was thinking of an entirely different event with that deadline -- only I couldn't remember what that event was. I'd saved the relevant e-mails, but they were buried in the 2,000 other e-mails in my in-box (literally -- though at that time it might have been as high as 3,000). I think part of the problem may also be that today's date is seldom relevant for me. My business correspondence is via e-mail, which is automatically time and date stamped for me. One of my freelance writing projects is dated, but I work three weeks out, so the date in my head is generally in the next month, and I'm always talking about any major holidays several weeks before they actually happen, which has the overall effect of leaving me lost in time.

Without a to-do list, none of those nagging little tasks feel concrete enough for me to get them done. They just float around in my head with that general sense that there's something I should be doing, but I don't seem to actually accomplish anything until I write it down.

The first couple of weeks this month, I got so little done because I'd let my good habits slip. I'd slacked on tracking where I was spending my time, I hadn't printed the month's page from my calendar/scheduling software, and I wasn't keeping my detailed to-do lists. When I did all that yesterday, I was surprised at how much my stress levels dropped. Instead of having that vaguely unsettling, nagging feeling that there was something I needed to be doing, I had a list, and I could check things off. I knew where I was in time. And I got stuff done.

I'm not sure why I went through that phase of being resistant because, in spite of that former ability to remember everything, I love calendars and lists. Organizational experts would say I waste time by keeping too many calendars and lists, but I love writing events down, filling out appointment boxes on calendars, and stuff like that. I sometimes make grand, hypothetical to-do lists just for fun. I've been known to create retroactive calendars to track things that did happen instead of just things that will happen.

So, now I have my to-do list for the week, and it's alarmingly full, which means I'd better get to work.

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