Overflow error: need for better organization and management
I know that I have too much on my mind when:
- I have a brilliant idea
- I realize that I can’t do anything with it right now
- I realize that if I don’t record it, I will lose it, because I have a lot to think about
- I consider creating a list of ideas to come back to later
- I notice that I have already done this (and forgotten about it)
- I open the list, and notice that the idea I just had is already on it
- It has been there for a year
- This is not the first time this has happened
I’ve been thinking lately that I need to put some energy into organizing my life better, and this is a good example of why. I am flooded with information, creative ideas, desires, and responsibilities through my work, study, home life and reflection. I have no illusions about being able to fully honor all of these: that is clearly impossible. However, I instinctively feel that I could do a much better job of sorting and prioritizing them to maximize my personal effectiveness and satisfaction.
I am a great fan of keeping lists: to-do lists, agendas, my inbox, journals, and other tools all serve to help me capture my thoughts and consider them in a larger context. Rather than reacting to them one by one, I can look at all of them together and make a conscious choice about what to do right now. List-keeping is one of the most basic strategies of personal organization, and practicing it has made a dramatic difference in my life.
However, I can see that it is no longer sufficient, and that in order to continue to improve, I will need something more powerful. I’m not looking for a new list management tool: Remember the Milk, Futz, Tomboy, Jott, and many others provide highly optimized list-keeping facilities. I don’t use any of them myself (being a text file junkie), but they look great, and offer the right tradeoffs for different people. My method list-keeping is good enough for me, for now. Rather, list-keeping is not enough.
Similarly, scheduling has been a successful strategy for me, helping me to decide how I spend my time. I am not as proficient in scheduling as I am in list-keeping, but I understand the basics and apply them.
What I need is a new paradigm, a new way of thinking about this problem which incorporates and transcends list-keeping and scheduling, and addresses their shortcomings. I’ve only just begun to research this area, and so far, the most relevant material I’ve found has come from Stephen Covey’s classic text The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. “Habit 3” describes a historical progression of time management tools and approaches which resonates with my personal experience, and prescribes next steps to improve upon it. I’m not sure yet whether it’s the right direction for me, but here is what I think so far.
Things I like about it:
- Explicit recognition of the various roles I occupy in my life
- Helping to balance priorities across different roles
- Promoting preventative and growth activities, in balance with day-to-day progress
Things which I feel are missing:
- Simplicity: It seems like a lot of bookkeeping, compared to how I’m used to doing things. I want a system which is as lightweight as possible, because organizational tools which create friction are self-defeating.
- Feedback: I want a mechanism which helps me to regularly evaluate what I’ve done and improve upon it. This should be as easy and automatic as possible, without requiring too much time tracking and data entry
- Technology: As a technologist, I’m always looking for ways to bring the latest technology to bear on my problems, to make me more efficient. Covey’s approach was designed without the benefit of the past 20 years of Internet revolution, and the software which is based on it seems a bit dry and monolithic.
Dear readers, do you find yourselves in a similar position? What are you using to manage your life? What else did you try? What was good or bad about it?