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Help--Everything is a mess...again

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  • Help--Everything is a mess...again

    I have gained a lot from this forum and would appreciate any suggestions on getting my life in order again.

    I have just had a 3 month situation of dealing with family matters, an athletic injury, schedule changes of my own and family members and I am amidst a growing and daunting mess of new mail and oldpiles, new tasks and new schedules, medical appointments, many needed home repairs, unfinished perosnal projects, and a lot of things I really want to do for enjoyment but they take planning as well.

    I have been partially successful in implementing GTD in the past.

    The greatest benefit to me has come to me from defining projects by desired outcome and only putting on the calendar true appointments, deadlines, and windows of opporunity to consider (e.g., Mary in town 8/27-9/1).

    My failures are:

    Using Next Action lists for any intellectual work, sorting, financial stuff, organizing, planning, and physical labor tasks. I do okay with these for phone calls and errands. I don't need them for grocery shopping and cooking (but they might make these jbs less time consuming).

    I need to review context to perform most of the next actions I list. in order to do them. This is just the way my brain works. I have tried to use the GTD widget cranking paradigm and I can't get it to work for me.

    I also need to journal about my actions as on I go along to meet work requirements and because this benefits me in tracking what I am doing and how it is working (why and why not).

    I am great determining the first action on a project but then I tend to drift when the tasks are gathering information, analyzing information, writing, sorting papers, financial stuff, organizing papers and materials, planning projects over time, and physical labor tasks.

    I get lost easily, mentally and physically when I multi-task and have poor memory. As a result I have a natural tendancy to want to work a project to either completion or a natural stopping point. I have always worked project-by-project (and managed by crisis very well) and had a lot of energy but due to advancing age and the huge number of complex projects this isn't working so well anymore.

    I work best when I have brainstormed a project pretty fully even although I usually end up applying a solution that is a little different than what I mapped out originally.

    I very much value and thrive on discussing plans and possibilities with others and getting their input, even although imy solutions are usually very unique and implemented independantly. I find it very useful to write down what others suggest because then I understand it better.

    Even for seemingly small and ordinary tasks, like "clean the garage out", I just can't do it without a full written plan, including a desired outcome and a list of the first few actions. I am not OCD just spacey. I have tried medications (Ritalin and such) and I do better with them but am likely to get hyperfocused on the wrong things and afterwards I forgot what I have done and how I have done it.

    Numerous things in my house are in disrepair due to its age and my inattention to it. Repairs are interrelated and will require my analyzing and seeing what I can do myself (what materials and tools I still have) and what I need to get bids on. I hope that in the process of getting bids on several projects that I will find someone whom I can employ on a regular basis for recurring maintenance and new repairs. I need to keep track of dimensions, materials, and other considerations. In the pst when I have contracted for repairs, if I have not really thought through the project and defined each part I have gotten a really poor job done, even on such simple things as getting a new kitchen drain. It does not work for me to carry and open my Palm or laptop in a Home Depot type of place unless it is just for one specification like a part number.

    Finances are not clearly organized.

    Calendar problems: I am out and about a lot for work. I like to use the Palm because it is small and light weight to write down all appointments and deadlines, and possible date-bound opportunities ones as well (e.g. events I might attend, dates that available options). However, for some reason I just cannot use either the screen of the Palm or the computer to do "looking a head time planning" (e.g., to do this by....I need to start....; or I will only have 2 hours that are not committed on Tueday...) I just seem to have to do this with paper, so I end up using both paper and Palm. Any suggestions?

    Communication problems: I need to communicate a lot of changing information to 3 other people daily (one has e-mail) and 2 others by phone several times a week. One of these two can get really hostile if words are not chosen carefully and if something is presented as a firm date and then it changes. Once this person gets hostile, it is more than just an annoyance that one can ignore, she becomes uncooperative and passive-aggressive and will also influence the other one of the pair.

    Journaling: I need to record briefly who, what, where, and next-actions and so on as I work. I need to be able to review these entries and pull together those that are related. Using the stylus to pick through the keyboard on Palm is just way too slow. Any suggestions, paper or electronic on this?

    Filing problems: using a single a to z system has resulted in similar items not being located together unless I make headings that bridge them and then I am looking in too many places or I have to remember the rubric. I need to separate my filing system into "functional" areas again.

    I get extremley board and deenergized while filing at home. Music does not keep me going but interesting NPR type of talk shows do but my local radio stations do not have these. I don't have cable TV. At the office, there is so much background noise that I cannot think clearly to file my papers there.

    I have 13 days before my next out-of-town trip. Of these, three days are heavily booked but the others have flexibiility in the form of 2 to 4 hour blocks of time. I can however expect a lot of short notice requests and time changes on meetings and presentations in this period (this is business as usual).

    Any suggestions? I have two tubs of new mail to process and all my desks and work surfaces are covered with unfiled stuff! I am just not sure where to to begin. Weekly reviews have goine by the wayside, but I am thinking maybe I need to start in with a session defining what my active projects are for the next 13 days and what I am deferring to a specific time after that to review or pursue or to an indefinite Someday Maybe.

    Thank you in advance. Jamie

  • #2

    Hi Jamie,

    that's a lot of context you provided.

    My impression is that you could benefit from growing little habits, one by one. Maybe the penicillin method is something worth trying, you can find a desription here: Also, check Leo Babautas Blog zenhabits for excellent advice on that topic; maybe a good starting point is

    Hope that helped,


    • #3
      find a starting point

      Find a desk you can work at and great big crate.

      Clear everything on the desk that is not equipment (ie pens, stapler), supplies (ie paper, post-its) or decoration (ie picture of family) into the crate.

      Process things out of the crate one by one into fresh lists.

      Stop and admire your achievement.

      Choose one room, take your big crate and two binbags. Put things to process in the crate, obvious junk in bag A and things someone else could benefit from in bag B. Junk A and give B to the nearest charity.

      Stop and admire and then do the other rooms, step by step.

      Any project will produce some kind of physical result, but you will need to define it: don't just "research new car", when you should be "writing down a shortlist of suitable cars". Defining what product you want to end up with will ground your thinking.

      Do not focus on what you cannot do. Be happy with the things you CAN do and take small steps. Celebrate every step taken.

      Good luck


      • #4
        Almost EVERY program from NPR is available for download as either an audio file or a podcast. Install itunes (free) and you can subscribe to them, so that there is a never ending supply of that kind of material available for you when you need to do filing and such. If you can't install things on your work computer, get yourself an ipod and sync the materials onto it; then you can put your headphones on, hang a do-not-disturb sign on your office door and do your office filing.

        I have certain functional areas in my filing - my home filing (bills, warrenties, etc) is separate from my files of journal articles, which is separate from my files of project support materials. Having separate files is fine as long as the lines are clear; if there is ambiguity about where you might put something, then you need to work on those definitions some more. For example, while many journal articles support specific projects, I KNOW that if I am looking for something that would appear in a bibliography it goes in one place, whereas my notes and working documents on the project itself are separate. (I reuse the journal articles, so this makes sense.0

        Looking at everything you say below, I really think you would be better off with a paper system. That would allow you to have a calandar with a long view, room for notes of who you meet, when, why and next actions, all your journaling, project planning notes, etc. I gave up my treo because the screen was just too small for me to use when planning longer term activities or trying to take in larger amounts of information. There are other technical options but it sounds like the palm doesn't function for you on many levels. What levels DOES it work for you? For example, do you need something to beep at you when you need to be somewhere? Can you use your phone for that? Or a service that sends you text messages when you have an appointment?


        • #5
          When I'm overwhelmed, I find this form pretty useful.

          Remember, you can only do one thing at a time, and you don't need a perfect plan to get started.


          • #6
            I have totally been there. I find that collecting everything into a box and filing everything that needs to be filed while setting next actions as fast as you can until you collapse is the best method. hehe

            I always feel so refreshed and energized after those sessions.

            Then I review my project list and someday maybe and verify next actions for the former and promote SMs to projects.