When Containers Go Rogue

Log Jam

Log Jam (Photo credit: heathzib)

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by the number of things on your to-do list, that you became immobilized? This has happened to me more times than I care to admit.It’s like a log jam. Everything nicely contained with no where to go. Everything comes to a standstill; frustration sets in.

Three days ago, it happened again. I had a massive to-do list and a block of time. It could have been an easy thing to do: by any method, just choose a couple of things to start on and get moving. Even without a lot of prioritizing, the potential was there. Except for one thing. The folders and materials I needed were not organized. Some things were in my bag. A couple piles of papers were near my desk. Other files were on my sewing table. A few things were on the kitchen table. No matter where I looked, I couldn’t get the stuff to work on one project without upsetting the balance of something else I was working on.

Now I’m not crazy enough to think that logs (or files) set out to block the movement of logs (or projects); but it is easy sometimes to forget that reality sometimes. These container malfunctions, if you will, are often the results of mismanaging of some sort. In my case, I can trace this problem to two main causes.

1. It’s part of my personality to be (almost) compulsive about “doing” something all of the time. Not that I don’t enjoy a lot of it. I do, but that’s the stuff of other blog posts. For the moment, just let me say that I get wrapped up in way too many things. I know this, but I haven’t figured out how to stop myself . . . yet.

2. I still struggle with that containerizing versus organizing thing. So while things are contained (and organized in a limited way), the volume of projects and related “stuff” that goes with them sometimes overflows, and it feels like nothing can move. I look around me at my list and the piles of materials that go with the lists, and I want to throw up my hands and run away.

Luckily, I found a solution–using the log jam image, as I have in the past. If I can dismantle even one little part of the log jam (pile jam), things will start to move along better. In Saturday’s case, the kitchen table became the detangling station. I started by taking all the things from the bag that goes back and forth to school with me. I set each set of papers on the table, one pile for each of my projects. After I finished that, I took a pile from next to my desk and sorted those papers in the same way. Before long, I had several stacks of papers on the kitchen table. It offered a temporary solution, I was able to once again start making progress on a number of projects without losing the whole day to disorganization and despair.

The interesting thing about this ongoing problem is that I almost always figure out a way to meet my deadlines and get things done. The bad news is that there is a cyclical element to this process. I organize, plan, and begin to implement, and then I start to let the system slip. Then I have to work through the log-jam again. I need to figure out a  way to keep all of my projects organized so I can move easily between them. Of course, I also need to reduce the number of projects I try to juggle. And while I can’t accomplish everything at once, I think a three-dimensional matrix model might help me think about how to tackle both of these problems eventually. All three elements–time, projects/ideas, and resources–must come together.

As I pursue the matrix idea, I’ll report back. In the meantime, I’m going to knock off a few items from that to-do list.