The Home Office: Early Progress on the Organising Project

After bragging about finishing off a priority before launch date, I think it’s time to get into one of the four others on my list.

I’m keen on getting into some things, exploring opportunities. But right at the moment, I don’t fully trust myself to actually fulfill my promises, mostly because I tend to misplace them. I’m either not paying full attention when I make the promise or I’m afraid of actually pulling out a notebook and storing it for fear of being ridiculed for not having a good memory.

And when I do note the promise down, there’s the issue of transferring it to somewhere I can find (or be reminded of) it easily when I’m in the right circumstances to get it done.

That’s why I’m keen to get organised. When I wrote about my five priorities, I stated that I want a smoothly-operating productivity system and organising habits. That, I now realise, was  a rather dry way of saying that I want to trust that I’m doing the right things to ensure I take the small and large steps toward fulfilment of my priorities.

And I have two-and-a-half months to earn my own trust by.

Think Global, Act Local

Over the last week, I’ve been making progress in small chunks. I decide to start in my immediate workspace and move outward from there; I’ve cleaned up my working desk and the set of shelves next to it.

All the tidy stuff is in the big black box. Sigh…

Yesterday, I went through The Filing Cabinet of Doom, which has suffered from containing my poorly thought out implementation of the Getting Things Done system for a little while. I’ve put all my Five Priorities stuff in the top drawer with my calendar file (which reminds me: check today), dedicated to the second drawer to reference material and stuff we touch on at least a monthly basis (archives for bank statements, bills, etcetera) and the bottom drawer for the Someday / Maybe file (fitness, guitar, trips, etc.) and spare Manilla folders and hanging files.

My only worry is, that cabinet is becoming a “me” space. What about Vickie’s stuff?

Next on the list is my PC desk, which has all sorts of stuff ditched on it, and the set of drawers to the right of the desk, one of which – our tech drawer – needs a good cleanout and regorganising.

Virtually, I’ve started moving my various to-dos out of Evernote, which I want to retain as a virtual idea storage, and into another web utility called Remember the Milk. I made an abortive attempt to use this a few months ago but botched it by trying to cram everything in at once; now I’m taking it one task at a time and only moving those things across that are on my Right Now list. So far, it’s working pretty well.

I’m also looking at my PC. At the moment, my main organising tasks are split between it and my netbook, which runs my mail program as slowly as a wet week. I want to make my desktop PC my digital nucleus around which the portable electrons orbit, especially as the very slow responsiveness of my netbook is one of the things that puts me off taking action and trying to get organised.

The only thing there is that my PC is running Windows XP, which Microsoft have previously announced that they’re ending support for this year, and an upgrade (to Windows 7, at least) would most likely require me to upgrade my PC (which was mid-range after I last upgraded it seven years ago). We’re getting a nice tax return, so after I sort Vickie’s computing frustrations out and pay our credit cards off I may have enough to got a local IT pro to have at my PC – I lost interest in self-upgrading a while ago.

After that, I have a few other hot-spots I want to pay attention to: Our various bookshelves, for a start (plenty of books, videos and DVDs I could likely triage out of my life) plus the CD rack currently hidden away in the spare room and some of the other nooks and crannies where I’ve parked bits and bobs with the intent of getting around to them sometime.

Becoming a Hard Bastard

That’s another thing I’ve been doing that I’m looking forward to doing more. I’ve been unsubscribing from a lot of e-mail lists that I’m part of; mostly the various corporate update lists like Xbox. You may have better spam filters than I, but even then, have you noticed how much stuff you tend to accumulate in your mail file from all the web sites you’ve signed up for?

My rule of thumb is, if my first instinct is to delete it or if the thought of reading it it gives me a headache, I don’t even want to waste the time deleting every new one that comes in – I want to give my e-mail addresses back some meaning, if you see what I mean.

The same goes for physical stuff. If keeping it doesn’t inspire a “hell, yes!” or bring on a sense of peace, I’m passing it on to someone who can find meaning in it. I have plenty of other things that could fill that space.

Which means a lot of post-organising organising. After I took all of the stuff we rarely (if ever) touch from the big fining cabinet, I wound up with an archive box full of folders of paper that we need to go through and find new places for. And while I bought some cheap cardboard archive boxes last night, we might need some sealable ones so we can stash our paperwork elsewhere.

It also, though, means being honest with myself about some things that I’ve hung onto for ages.  Last night, I offered one of my stepsons-in-law, Anthony, my three boxes of Starship Troopers miniatures (a box of Mobile Infantry, a box of Warrior Bugs and a box of Hopper Bugs) that I bought seven or eight years ago. Rather than take them hismelf, he’s offered to put his eBay skills to use in on-selling them for me.

Early Challenges

My main goal with tackling my to-dos is to remove duplication – I want to make sure that if I check a to-do off, it’s not going to crop up again anywhere else, and that I’m not worried that there may be a task on a copy of a list somewhere other than the copy I have to hand.

That’s one problem with Remember the Milk – it has an Android app, but unless I pay to go pro the app will only sync with the main list once a day (though the pro option is only US$25 per year, so it’s tempting). Basically, if I update a list on my phone then look at my PC, I have to put extra work into figuring out which of the tasks on my PC I don’t have to worry about. That’s not good for a system that I want to operate smoothly, with minimal obstruction.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain another calendar, and lose his own mind?

Another potential source of duplication is calendaring. Remember the Milk lets me give tasks due-by dates, but I also have a paper diary, a Google calendar, a whiteboard that we’re using to plan out our weeks and a two-month dry-erase calendar on the window. I want to keep all my priorities, schedules and due-dates in the one place, but I also want Vickie to be able to access them, and she dislikes her computer at the best of times.

One Task at a Time

That written, though, it’s good to be making progress, any kind of progress, on this area that I’ve let languish for ages.

It’s also been good to listen to folks who’ve done the same. I already mentioned the Smart and Simple Matters podcast when I first wrote about getting my priorities in order, but I’d like to mention it again. Joel Zaslofsky, writer of the Value of Simple blog, is a relaxed yet energetic podcast host who discusses his desire to help people “simplify, organize and be money wise” with a range of folks who’ve done some incredible things with their lives.

Joel has less of a focus on “How I changed everything! and started my own business!! and shattered the status quo!!!” than some other life-change, small business or entrepreneurial podcasts; instead, he’s more about how his guests got the basics down, something I feel like I need to do. If you do nothing else after reading this blog entry, then go and listen to at least one episode of his podcast.

Are you curious?

How did you start to get yourself organised?

What small knock-overs helped build your early momentum?

What were the initial challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?



Remember the Milk

Value of Simple

Getting Things Done, by David Allen