Confessions from the Organizationally Challenged

This was originally a response to this wonderful article...

Gadgets...paper planners...or even organizing. It all scares me some, and I find myself always splitting my weight and having trouble committing to any one solution. I've made some headway, and I'm very happy to be here learning from others - here's a little story 'bout how I came to be here.

The gadget calls to me, but I'm very frugal and I evaluate purchases like a palm by the usefulness I know I would get out of them, regardless of how useful they can be to someone else. I know I'd forget to keep it up-to-date, and I know I'd drop it, and I know that if the interface isn't super-easy, I'd get tired of it and stop using it. Plus, I didn't see a real need for it. It was just wiz-bang.

The paper calls to me, but my handwriting is atrocious, and I right far slower than I type (unless I don't want to read what I wrote, in which case I can write quite fast). Plus, paper planners are for fuddy-duddies I thought - I am a new fresh young man with no need for my father's way of doing things.

I'm an artist by nature. The artist in me felt like organization, schedules, contact lists, day-planners, and all that crap would squash the creative, spontaneous side of me. Why the hell would I ever want to plan my day??? What happened to waking up, drinking coffee, wandering through the newsstand, doing some sketches in the park, and having a great time with NO plan. I'll tell you what happened to it - real life.

I'm a corporate management type by occupation. The manager in me needs to manage. Free days with no plan, however appealing, led me to massive stress and constant wondering about what I was forgetting. It also set a horrid example for my employees and left the occasional rift between myself and the more organized managers.

So, I had a double dilemma: First - to organize or not to organize. Second - to use a digital planner or a paper planner if I do choose to organize.

Then I read GTD. Question one was solved - I MUST organize.

For the second dilemma - it was easy - frugality won: Paper is cheaper, and the D*I*Y Planner and HPDA are right in my price range: free. However, I've yet to be fully committed. Short term tasks I get...long term tasks, things that linger past the current facing page of my HPDA - I can't find the right place for them.

Oh, and now there's a new dilemma - I've found the joy of keeping track, and it really is a joy. I love knowing that I write down almost everything I think of that needs to be done. However, I've always tried to keep my 'work life' and 'home life' separate. But...2 planners? I keep notes at work in one, and notes about everything else on another. So far, it's actually not been a problem, but that doesn't mean it won't be in the future.

D*I*Y Planner and the HPDA templates make this learning process so much easier. Finding this community and others like it has given me a chance to see that I'm not the only one trying to figure out how to make this all work. I'm not the only one that can't decide which is better (digital or paper) or even if I should pick one or the other. I'm not the only one trying to better myself and improve my ability to be effective at work and at my craft through the use of these tools. And I'm not the only one trying to balance a creative life and a strict corporate life at the same time. I’m not even the only one fighting to commit to a process and stick to it.

I'm not saying all this to ask for solutions, I have to find them on my own. I'm saying all this to respond with how I felt after reading the aforementioned article. I’m saying this so people can hear where someone else is in the process, and I would love to hear where you are. What of these (or other) dilemmas are you trying to work through? What do you hope to gain from or contribute to this site (if I may be so bold as to ask)? What about your life, work, or both has put you in planner land? Do you feel at home with these or other methodologies, or is it alien to you?

No need for a group hug or a trip out back to do some fire walking, I'm just curious.

David

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Stories from the War for Productivity

I'm going to spend a fair amount of this on "how you got here," if you'll indulge me.

My job in 1996-97 introduced me to the Franklin Quest (pre-Covey) system when they sent me to a seminar. It might have been a good idea, but my job and life (no meetings, no appointments) didn't fit the calendar-driven planner. So the planner sat ignored, out of the way...

I tried to use the planner at my next job, as a corporate webmaster. I had meetings and appointments, but most of everything else was project-based, like programming was. Reminders in Outlook dealt with the meetings and appointments, and the planner went back on the shelf.

At the next job (the Startup that Ate My Life), I had enough different things to keep track of that I needed some sort of external record -- my psychic RAM was way too full to keep everything in order. FranklinCovey "Daily Record of Events" pages became my work log, and I even "upgraded" to the letter-size planner, to help keep all the letter-size reference information I had. I lived my job, and my job lived in the planner.

The startup collapsed, and when I eventually went back to work, I tried to use the planner. I was back at a webmaster job, mostly project-oriented again, badly suited to the calendar-based planner. The planner went on the shelf...

...Only to come back last year (still at the same job), as an attempt to help me keep up with the bunches of things I had to get done. At the startup, everything was urgent -- at this job, nothing really screamed for immediate attention. I had no clear priorities, and so I didn't get much done. I flopped and floundered and gave up the planner, even after trying two-page weeks instead of two-page days.

At this point, I drew up a list of what I wanted in an organizational system, and my online explorations led me to Getting Things Done by David Allen. GTD got me started carrying a Moleskine as a capture tool, and I put my next actions in a Word document. I finally felt like I had a handle on my workload, at least in terms of knowing what it all was.

The Moleskine-plus-Word arrangement eventually felt lacking, because it only included things which I hadn't done yet -- there was no sense of accomplishment, progress, or completion. The planner returned again, in the earlier "classic" size, to serve as a log of what I had done... and, I hoped, as a way to plan what I would do.

Doug's D*I*Y Planner templates were informed by GTD, and I didn't have to build my planner around a calendar -- finally I could build a planner customized for the way I thought and worked, organized however I wanted. Thank you, Doug, and your million monkeys.

My war isn't over, though. While I have been able to keep handy lists of my commitments and my "someday/maybe" items, I'm still having trouble following through and actually getting all these things done. I believe I have the tools, but I am clearly not using them as effectively as I could.

My newest offensive is against procrastination. The much-recommended The Now Habit arrived from Amazon yesterday, and I think Neil Fiore may have me figured out. I nearly teared up when I read the "warning signs of procrastination" in the first chapter -- that list has me pretty much nailed.

All the brilliant planning ideas in the world don't mean much if plans aren't executed. Actions must be taken, not just listed and reviewed, and I may finally be on the way to getting there. In an interview with Fast Company magazine in 2000, David Allen said something that has been bouncing around in my head ever since I read it: "Productivity is about completion." These days, completion is my problem.

I'm better than I used to be, and as long as I keep improving, I'm doing all right. We all have our own personal suck, and we are all working to make it better.

-- flexiblefine

Hi, flex!

That is a wonderful write-up. Thanks so much for taking the time to lead us down the road that brought you here. So many of your experiences resonated with me, and actually I look back at some of my early forays into planner-land (which I'd forgotten about until I started reading your post) and I so see why they failed. I also realize that failure may have caused me to prejudge my current attempts at self-organization. Great links, and I love the name "the Startup that Ate My Life." Gosh, do we all have 'that job' that nearly ruined us??

Thanks,

David

"That job" and war stories

I think we do all have "that job," unless we haven't been working very long. My startup job eventually landed me in therapy -- which turns out to have been one of the best things I ever did for myself.

I hope others will be willing to share their war stories too. We can learn from our own past attempts at organization and productivity, but we can also share our lessons for the benefit of the community.

-- flexiblefine

Same War, Different Battle

I, too, was introduced to Franklin (pre-Covey) by my company. For awhile, everyone who was anyone was carrying around THE BIG BOOK. Unfortunately, my business is always in crisis mode, which pretty much eliminates planning. I quickly tired of re-writing my whole daily task list day after day and gave up on planners...for about a week.

I thought if I moved to the pocket planner (still Franklin) I would carry it everywhere and that would make it work for me. But I wasn't addressing the issue of being in crisis mode at the office and having to rewrite everything. Plus, it was too small to keep a lot of the reference materials.

My next attempt was with weekly pages instead of daily. There wasn't enough room on the weekly pages to write notes and I didn't do well writing notes in another planner section and flipping back and forth.

To make a long story shorter, after years of going back and forth between classic/compact/pocket size and weekly vs. daily pages (not to mention the hundreds of dollars spent!), I found DIY. (Thanks, Doug!) I use the hipster to record appointments, to-do/next actions, and abbreviated contacts (on a notes page). I use the classic for the big picture/archive/reference/complete contacts.

I had one of those magic moments of clarity, flexiblefine, when I saw your recent post of a fold-out weekly classic page for left-handers, folded around notes pages for the week. It's exactly what I need. Right-handers might like a version of this, too...more than just the handedness issue, it's about being able to see your calendar and notes without going back and forth. Thank you!