The crutch that I broke when I needed it the most

I’m kind of a nerd about the whole “being organized” thing. I was asked this week to give a full list of my current tasks – no problem, right? However I had to admit to myself (and the asker) that I did not, in fact, have a complete overview of everything that was going on, like we both expected of me. Ouch, my pride. Like many others, I use a simplified version of the “Getting Things Done” system which should, in theory, have all my projects and tasks in one spot. Imagine my surprise when I started to think about it and noticed that I was just not using my system that much anymore- me, the Organized Person.

So what happened?  I fell into a fallacy of thinking that I didn’t have time right now to keep my system up to date, so I’d to it later and work on [task] instead. [Task] is urgent! [Task] is important! My system can wait until tomorrow. In hindsight, it was stupidly obvious that this would come back to bite me sooner or later, but I didn’t think too much about it. I was busy, after all. I didn’t heed the very obvious warning signs that I could have noticed earlier: I had less and less overview what I would be working on later in the day, never mind later in the week. My brain was continuously running around in circles trying to keep up with all the tasks that were not stored safely. Have you ever experienced the blissful calm that comes from knowing with certainty that all your to dos are stored in your system, with a due date and all the steps necessary to complete them? It was the opposite of that.

Next warning sign: Post-its and other temporary notes. Even when my notebook was right there, I started to take notes on random pieces of paper. I don’t have an explanation for this, just that I have observed it before when I’m not up to date with my actual notebook. Maybe it’s because there was so much in the notebook that I was not taking care of that it seemed easier to have a piece of paper in plain sight.

But the worst part, and I think the one that had the most impact, was that I stopped doing my end-of-week cleanup sessions to move tasks from my inboxes into my organizational system. Which meant that I would start the week with a bloody mess to take care of (or to be more exact, to not take care of). Mondays are bad enough without running headfirst into a pile of post-its first thing in the morning, and I was doing this to myself. Not a good way to set yourself up for the week.

But the most important signs came from inside. I was feeling more and more stressed out, less in control of my day and my work. I was not sure anymore if I was missing something, so I was worried all the time. I AM worried all the time. Add to that the occasional moment of shame or guilt because I almost forgot to do something, or because I actually didn’t do something on time, and you have a very powerful cocktail of negative feelings. If unchecked, this leads to a spiral of avoiding to organize because there is so much to organize. Even though I know that I am capable of planning ahead and using this system, I didn’t feel capable to do so anymore.

Work is getting more and more interconnected, and we expect our people to do more in shorter amounts of time. We do not, however, have the shared work vocabulary to say “I am feeling like my brain is a squirrel on crack – help me organize?”.

The two most important lessons for me: One, do my freaking cleanup sessions on Fridays. As I am cleaning up everything right now to restart the system, those half hour of sanity-saving will get a dedicated calendar slot, even more untouchable than morning tea. Two, ask. for. help. Before you reach squirrel on crack levels of stress!