Saturday, 10 January 2015

Getting organised: sometimes low tech is the answer

My adventures in executive (dys)function continue as a new working year begins, bringing a very real need to knuckle down and get stuff done.  There's a lot to do this year and a lot of potential opportunities swirling around, but inertia and executive functioning shenanigans are threatening to knock the lot flying.

I have learned one very important thing about managing my own executive dysfunction in the last year: electronic doodads are largely useless.

Yes, there are calendars and diaries of various kinds and reminder apps and timers and all sorts of other digital goodies that are a great help to a lot of people.

But none of that 'sticks' for me.  I forget to set reminders or put appointments in my Outlook diary, or forget to check it.  I do up elaborate Gantt charts for project management, and forget to check them as well. Or the reminders go off, I click 'OK', and then immediately forget about them and go on with what I was doing. None of it really penetrates the ADD-scented Aspie fog surrounding my brain.

For that, I need something physical.

Physical diaries and to-do lists work much better for me than digital ones, for at least two reasons.

The first is that I can't just ignore them.  A diary on top of my keyboard that has to be picked up before I can get sucked into farting around online can't be ignored as easily as browser tab.  Having to physically pick it up and move it makes more of an impression on me than just clicking 'dismiss'.  Once I've picked it up, I realise what I'm supposed to do with it, and flip it open and get to work.

The other is that the physical act of writing also make more of an impression on me than typing.  Something committed to paper feels more concrete and important than something typed into a checklist app.  Crossing off completed items is also much more satisfying than clicking a box or deleting a line.

For longer-term projects and more complicated stuff, I've become a big fan of whiteboards.  I've currently got five in circulation, which sounds ridiculous but three of those are at work, and they were already there when I started so I thought I might as well use them.  That turned out to be a great idea.  All my big, long-term stuff is on one board, slowly getting crossed off and amended as things happen, while a smaller board is dedicated to another project and another keeps track of repeating tasks like fortnightly reports.

At home, I've got a big one for messing about, making lists and whatever I happen to be working on at the time (at the moment it's being used to work out the running order of acts for a variety show, because don't ask) and another marked up as a calendar.  I'm quite pleased with it.  I've used washi tape to mark it up into columns and rows, added the days of the week in permanent pen at the top, so at the start of the month I just have to write in the new dates.  I can mark which days I'm working, regular stuff like pay day and when the bins go out, and any other appointments, events and things I have to do.

Again, having a big physical thing I can't help but see is a useful tool for reminding me stuff has to be done.  But the act of updating things, crossing things out, updating the calendar at the start of a new month, also helps me get clear in my mind what I'm doing and how I'm going to do it.

It's terribly unfashionable to need a paper diary, two notebooks and a series of boards to plan your life in the age of smartphones and cloudy devices.  But the physical acts of writing and crossing out and drawing arrows and changing the numbers around when I realise the tasks should be done in a different order just works for my brain in the way that digital doodads just don't.

It might look like an old-fashioned and inefficient system, but it's helping me be far more productive than anything the 21st century has to offer so far.