27 September 2012

My tick list keeps me in line

Another strategy that I started employing when I was laid off in June is the use of a tick list. Although making lists is nothing new to me, the way I've used them this summer is different.

In the past I've turned making lists into a production. I would read about some organizational system and then spend weeks fine-tuning my own lists to match the ones in the system. Sometimes this would involve special equipment like a binder or a certain computer program that I would have to master. Many of the systems had symbols or codes for when I completed a task, when it needed to be done again, should I delegate it to someone, etc. This meant that I spent a lot of time remembering the codes and moving tasks from one column or list to another every day depending on the progress I had made. Maintaining the lists became a task unto itself, and I would spend 95% of my time fiddling with the lists and only 5% of my time actually completing the tasks.

Even though I managed to turn making a list into the ultimate procrastination tool, the reality is that I need lists now more than ever. I am an unemployed individual who is stuck at home almost every day and I have way too many options of things I could do. Some of it I need to do, like my college coursework, and some of it is a fun distraction. Without a daily agenda, I wander around my house aimlessly for a while and then settle in for another day of reality TV and Facebook games. Then I will wake up in the middle of the night with all these thoughts and regrets because I didn't accomplish this or that the day before.

What I've found is that a list needs to be quick and dirty for me. Grab a piece of paper and a pen when I wake up, jot down three things I want to get done that day (usually from thoughts that interrupted my slumber at 4a), and get going. Keep the list in front of me during the day so I can keep myself on track, like when I check my email and fall down the rabbit hole of links. If another task occurs to me while I am in the middle of doing something, I write it down so I can continue focusing on the task at hand. Most importantly, toss the list at the end of the day so that I don't become a slave to the system.

I'm still going to use the S.H.E. box for helping me remember monthly and seasonal chores and delegating different jobs to the kids, but this brain-on-paper list method is more helpful for me on a daily basis.  It helps me order my day in minutes and I feel less guilty when I go to sleep at night.

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