Adam’s got a great post up today: Cataloguing the Chaos. It really helped me dissect my organisational skills in a way I hadn’t thought of previously.
I have the capacity to be disorganised. If the regularity with which I have to ring my mobile to find it is any indication of the level of disorganisation in my grey matter, you’ll understand my compulsive list making tendencies. The brain can only hold so much in short term memory and I often max it out between business and writing and the other things life insists you attend to. I also found coming out of my last bout of depression at the start of the year, my memory just wasn’t what it used to be.
The Week Starts Here
The first thing I do on Monday morning (well okay, after I’ve brewed tea) is open my diary and write a comprehensive to do list. This tames the swirling miasma of chaos and contains it to a single page.
I have a Moleskine diary that has the dates on one side and a page opposite to accommodate the list writing. It is both a ready reference and constant companion, so much so, by the end of the week the ink has faded from sitting open in the sun.
Lately I’ve gone from using pencil (even if it is easier to rub out) to using coloured ink. In the absence of any artistic talent beyond the odd wonky stick man, this is how I make the dry process of diary keeping and lists making juicy. I’m surprised at how a visually appealing to do list makes it easier to tackle. Highlighting important dates, while adding additional splashes of colour, ensures I don’t miss them.
Being organised on a Monday morning means I can than move on and flag any important dates with other people I’m working with, and the gears of the machine are oiled and move with precision.
I’m a terrible one for working on multiple project–simultaneously. I believe it is, in part, an artifact of last year: taking on too much, crashing and burning too often, saying yes when no was the appropriate answer and generally being someone who is naturally drawn to lots of different things at the one time.
Keeping an itemised list of all the things I’m working on helps me to see what’s on the go on any given week, quickly and easily, and where the priorities lie (what appears at the top of the list). It also means I can decide what I want to, or need to, work on the following day.
Where possible I break down every task into its smallest unit size. On one hand it makes the list longer, and therefore possibly more daunting, but the reverse of this is tasks get completed and crossed off quickly. I’m a big one for momentum begetting momentum.
Several weeks ago I achieved a first, with the exception of getting back to my studies, I crossed everything off my list, added more and crossed it off too. There is nothing like hitting the weekend knowing you’ve achieved what you set out to do at the start of the week.
Separating Work and Pleasure
You’ll notice my to do list is divided into two: on the left side my editing and publishing responsibilities and on the other side what I want to achieve each week with my writing. Anything that doesn’t get crossed off is transferred across to the next week, as a way of keeping myself honest.
This week, as you’ll see above, is the first where the writing column is longer than the editing and publishing column. Keeping lists has enabled me to see how I’ve slowly transitioned into my sabbatical and how, yes, I’m almost fully there. It’s also a log of what I’ve worked on, what I’ve submitted, what I’ve completed and what’s still brewing.
Curbing the Outer Chaos
Life happens. Shit often accompanies it. Recently, more mornings than I care to to number, I’ve sunk into the wrong head-space before I’ve even reached my desk. If it weren’t for the list, I’d be lost. A head-space under siege is where a list comes into its own. When you’ve itemised your tasks down to bite sized pieces even a brain that resembles the mess of a 1000 word jigsaw puzzle just tipped from the box more than a thrumming set of circuits, can find something to start on until the head-space realigns.
Return of Chaos Theory
I know when I’ve succumbed to chaos. The diary disappears, the lists disappear and I lurch from one task to another and every second emails begins with “I’m sorry”. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t keep a diary or write lists for most of last year (the most chaotic of my entire adult life). I put it down to being unable to find ‘the right’ diary, but it really was a case of the horse bolting and never actually catching it.
I know better now. Thanks to Adam’s post, I understand this is my way of harnessing the chaos, rather than just being a bit of pedant who likes the look of her own writing on the page.
Five Tips For Taming The Chaos
- Have a diary and keep it handy. Put everything in there so you have a single overview of the week at your finger tips.
- Use your diary for dates and lists.
- Break your list into the different projects you’re currently working on. If it makes sense, make a division between business and pleasure.
- Break your list down further into small, easy to do tasks where possible
- Make your diary and your lists visually appealing and easy to follow. That way you’ll want to look at it.