As you may recall, I promised to report back on my efforts to get organized and deal with all that information overload. I would like to say that I can report a near 100% success rate. My system is working pretty well, but I feel I am not there just yet. Going through this process though, I have been reminded of a couple of pretty simple lessons, and I hope you will not mind my repeating them.
You have probably heard the old adage, give a job to a busy person if you want to get it done. I don’t agree. Not if you want the busy person to be healthy, happy and stress free. Just like the nonsense of doing more with less, resources everywhere are limited. In this case we run out of time and even a busy person needs to say NO. I have adopted this new mantra, by getting better at prioritising and exercising discretion. I love challenges, variety and the excitement of something new, and the new thing I am learning is that I do not need to say yes to every opportunity. Lesson: Learn your limits, be true to yourself and what works best for you. Hence this is my last SLAW column.
I’ve mentioned Doodle before and lately our Trustees and Committee members have had to schedule a lot of meetings. One meeting of 6 people could result in endless email strings that would bring my mailbox to a standstill and I still wouldn’t have a clue of when we should be meeting. Using Doodle has been a lifesaver. You can use it when trying to arrange a function with family or dinner with friends too. Pick some dates and times and create a poll. Send everyone the link and let them vote. Doodle will tell you which is the best date and time for the meeting. The lesson, use whatever technology makes things simpler. Of course, not everyone adapts to change, but with gentle encouragement or strong persuasion, they can be moved, especially if it makes sense.
Tasks, projects and regularly recurring events all need to be kept track of. I have talked about David Allen’s GTD system in the past and have found that adapting Outlook to incorporate the GTD system has been fantastic. His website actually has a guide on how to do it, again using the resources available to me, without having to spend too much time to figure it out myself. It’s forced me to analyze the bits of information I receive and quickly place them in the proper spot. It’s almost impossible to explain one’s organizational system in so short an essay, but I encourage everyone to take some time to examine what structure their email / task system can provide. If you do happen to check out his website, don’t let it overwhelm you, start by reading his book Getting Things Done.
The problem is when there’s so much going on I don’t have time to create a task. That’s when the old-fashioned pad and writing device come in handy. When something impromptu happens and someone calls or walks into my office, I still take notes on paper. If the issue can be dealt with quickly, it disappears. But for things that are more complicated, I quickly process it into its proper spot; another Staff Meeting agenda item, more information for a project or its own discrete task. No matter what system you use, you need to take the time to reflect, check lists and assess. Does your organizational system show you what is still outstanding, what your day looks like, what to expect in the coming weeks? Even with the best system, we all need to take the time to access and plan.
The one thing this process has led to is something that I heard Stephen Abrams say years ago, never handle any piece of paper twice. I remember him advising us to deal with it or delegate it as it comes in and you are done. What about your email inbox – how many hundred emails do you have? Steven’s advice works even better with all those digital informational tidbits flying at us through the ether. As it comes in make your decision and deal with it immediately: delete it or file it as a task, add it to a project, make it an appointment, make a telephone call in response, reply to it, but don’t just leave it there. Mailboxes quickly fill up and things get lost, forgotten or neglected. There are any number of email management solutions available. I don’t care what your system is, just make sure you do something!
Have I used Evernote? – admittedly no. I took a quick look, but as is a common complaint today, I didn’t really have the time to fully understand it and as a result have left it as an undated Task on my list. I realized that all our Outlook system was able to provide the structure I needed to organize my workflow. And believe my next project will greatly enhance my ability to keep organized: the association and library are moving to the cloud. Now wherever I go, as long as I have an internet connection, I will be able to access my desktop, all the files currently stored on the server, and the full Outlook which now includes my colour coded GTD system. The nerd in me is very excited.
What’s the moral to these last couple of months of searching for some sparkly new paradigm that was going to totally transform my life? Well, turns out it was right there in front of me. It only took the perspective of looking at other systems to see that the one I was so familiar with had everything I needed. Changing old habits is not easy but sometimes you already possess what you need to make yourself more efficient. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes some time to instill new habits. The point is to find out what works for you. It may not be easy, but the results are worth it.
Thanks to everyone who has read, commented and offered article suggestions and especially to my editor, Linda Zardo. I’ve really enjoyed the forced introspection these articles have required, but like I said, I’m embarking on some new and exciting plans. Who knows, I might write about some of those in the future.