mad in pursuit journal


Organizing Turns Compulsive

[>>>cont'd] My Get It Done attitude of last week took a turn for the obsessive-compulsive this weekend. I bought David Allen's "Getting Things Done" on Saturday morning.

I meant to get a few tips about managing my lists but wound up falling for the whole deal. What this means: collecting every scrap of paper that's lying around and going through every mystery pile on every shelf and writing it all down. The aim of writing it all down in either paper or electronic lists is to enable yourself to forget about it, to stop the nagging in your subconscious, to clear your head so that you can actually get some things done.

This "collection" of stuff into lists (organized into categories like desk-now, pending, errands, journal entry ideas, projects, home - not at desk, and maybe/someday) is supposed to be a separate process from "purging and organizing" but because my file drawers and shelves were stuffed I gave in to the temptation to start pitching paper. We have two lateral file units for a total of 6 drawers -- they all took a severe beating from me yesterday. Then there were the mysterious full-yet-unused "in-baskets" on my studio shelves...

By last night the index card system I started on Thursday had grown to a fat pack.

The whole thing stressed me out, as Jim will attest when he accidentally butted against a table and sent half the "to be sorted for Ebay" items flying to the floor.

It stressed me out because it forced me to confront the entire universe of my life. There was something satisfying in hauling things downstairs to the recycling bin, but these items too often represented litter on my Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Like the amazing amount of well-organized reference material I'd collected on international art crime in the early 90s that was supposed to be used for my series of novels... Gone. Bye-bye.

On the other hand, as I sat on the floor reorganizing files that contained all my half-baked story ideas and abandoned projects, I made a card for each one to put into the Maybe/Someday category (no pressure to do them NOW, but don't want to get them lost in the dark of the cabinet). This process was overwhelming at first, but wound up being calming at the end. I've had some good ideas over the years... and now I see that I still have them.

The "Getting Things Done" method has a lot in common with Zen Buddhism. Both philosophies claim that you can't be productive (or enlightened) if your brain is bombarded with anxious thoughts as it tries to monitor the universe keeping track of everything, figuring out what to do next. Both emphasize letting all the "stuff" go in order to be purely in the Now. Zen points the way to do this through daily zazen meditation. GTD says every single stray action must be written down in a trusted system that's used every day.

Okay, I think the crazy part is over. Maybe I can actually get some work done now.


Getting Started with "Getting Things Done"

Hipster PDA -- aha! index cards!