Thursday, April 26, 2007

Getting back on the organization wagon...

If you haven't noticed from both the topics and (ir)regularity of my posts lately, life's been a little nuts this past month, as we've been settling into the new ILS, dealing with the traditional end-of-semester reference and citculation crush at the same time, and--oh yeah--sorting out our requests for next year's budget. Everything that was not mission critical went on the back burner--writing blog posts, keeping up with most RSS feeds, any purchasing and cataloging that could wait a few weeks, and a lot of my GTD routines like reviewing my next actions at the beginning and end of the day, and keeping a log of my completed tasks. I even got to the point where I stopped writing things down for a week or so, keeping them festering in my inbox or worse, trying to remember it all in my brain. In short, I didn't do all the stuff I carp on you guys here to do, with the predictable result of a messy office and a frazzled brain. You all may now point, snicker and generally feel smug. :-)

While my skipping of a few weekly reviews and stacks of stuff festering in my office didn't result in any major disasters, that was more dumb luck and the leftover inertia of my prior good habits than anything else. I've had enough lost paperwork or forgotten deadlines in my time that I know that's the ultimate result of disorganization. I worked a shift last saturday, took a look at my desk and inboxes, and inwardly groaned. The worst of the storm had passed, I had 8 sleepy saturday hours ahead of me to dig out, and I'd run out of emergency items that gave me excuses to ignore the mess. It was time to pay the piper.

So...if you've been a little lax for a few weeks or months on your organization, and find yourself disorganized and flustered, how do you get back on track? It's not nearly as big a nightmare as it may seem--under those piles you still have the bones of a good system. What do you do to dig out?

First, forgive yourself. I'm sure that this did not happen because you spent the last few weeks nibbling bonbons at your desk with your feet up. most likely this is the aftermath of a major project or rush period, and you should look back at what you have accomplished during that time. I've noticed a perfectionist streak in a lot of librarians--especially newer ones. I think it's just part of being a geek and a lover of information. Well, you won't ever be perfect. Every few months I take the GTD mastery test as a self-check of where I am on my organization habits and to get ideas of areas for improvement. I most recently scored a 64, and I write a time management blog! One of the key things I learned in my career is to accept the occasional error. obviously I'd rather have every task in my life under perfect control at all times, but that is not going to happen. So I've put together systems in my life to accomplish as much of that as possible while still having a life and free time, and most importantly I've learned to forgive and shrug off the occasional slip. S#*t happens. Take a deep breath, give yourself a hug, and get down to work. It's not nearly the disaster it seems to be.

Part of the reason the situation seems so overwhelming and disastrous is that you simply don't know where everything is and what tasks need to be done! Well, that's easily mended. Get everything to in. all the scattered papers, books, etc floating around your office need to go to the inbox (or next to it if you fill your inbox) to be processed. open up your email inbox, and any catch-all folders you've set up for files that need to be dealt with. Now, grab a pen and paper, and make a list of EVERY TASK that's floating around in your head--get it all captured and on paper. then add those items to your inbox. Now comes the fun part--process all your stuff. set up next actions, add meetings to calendars, do short tasks--you know the drill. Just by the simple act of putting all that stuff in one place and processing it, you will feel much more in control of your workload. Even if you leave work with a stack of unprocessed items for the next couple of days--you know where it is, you have a general idea of what it is, and you know it'll all get processed shortly.

Now to the part I'm working on now. When you've emptied your inbox, and gotten all your actions done, delegated, or deferred, add one more action to the list to do when you have your next weekly review or other blocked-off planning time: post-disaster review. (okay, "disaster" is a bit extreme, but you get the concept.) Grab a notepad, or whatever you think best on, and answer the following questions.

  • What caused the initial slip into disorganization? a big project, an unexpected absence, an emergency "from above" that took several days to resolve, or just tackling too many projects at once?
  • does this sort of thing tend to happen this time every month/semester/whatever?
  • How long were things "out of control" before you took action?
  • What inspired you to get it back together?
  • What was easier/harder than you expected about climbing out of the hole?
  • How can you change your processes or routines to make a recurrence less likely?
  • Do you need to think about delegating some of your ongoing tasks to a less-burdened colleague or a talented subordinate?
  • If you had to do it all over again, what would/could you have done differently to avoid the mess? If there are ideas, incorporate them in your process going forward. if this slip was unavoidable (and they are at times) , see the beginning of this plan, forgive yourself, and move on.
Your effectiveness at Getting Things Done (or Covey, or whatever system you use), has very little to do with how well you can attain/maintain perfection in your system during the normal times. Instead, when times get tough, and the inevitable slips occur, how quickly and easily do you bounce back and regain control? Nobody is or should be perfect--heaven knows that life would be much duller if we were. Strive for excellence, and for resilience when the tough times come. If you can manage that, you'll find that organization--as well as most other things in life--become much easier and more pleasant.

See you next tuesday, with my first new and improved RSS digest. :-)