The (IL)Logic of Self-Defeating Behaviors

Image courtesy of 89studio / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of 89studio / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the US, the fall semester of most universities ends in early December with a break for the Christmas holidays. That’s not the case in Taiwan. Our 18 week semester ends sometime in early to mid-January in time for a break for Chinese New Year’s. (Which also means that, yes, I taught on Christmas). But the nice thing about the schedule here (other the fact that the semesters are 18 weeks long) is that when our break comes, I can use it to catch up on tasks that have been slipping through the cracks while classes are in session.

So I entered the month-long break with a list of things I wanted to accomplish. Now this wasn’t my usual crazy-ass mountain list where I try to climb Mt Everest, take 1st place in a cooking competition, and write my acceptance speech for a Nobel Prize all in the same afternoon. I was actually fairly reasonable, listing three major projects that I wanted to make progress on. I thought this would be a smart way to approach things instead of resorting to my typical over-achieving ways. I added a couple of personal projects that I was excited about to be used as a reward as I accomplished my goals. I even sweetened the pot by adding “fun” projects–quilting, blog posts, pleasure reading. We planned a couple of outings–a couple day trips and one overnight. A productive, yet restorative break lay out in all its promising glory.

The new 18-week semester begins on February 17, our opening faculty meeting is on Friday, the 14th. So, with less than a week of the break left, I wish I could report that my three main projects for the break have been completed, and that my “reward” projects are all moving along nicely. And that further, I’m refreshed, renewed, and ready to tackle the semester with gusto.

Instead, I am frustrated because during the past couple of weeks, I feel like I didn’t get enough done. And when I say “enough,” I mean the things that were on my “reasonable” to-do list. I sit here with one of the three projects finished, one at about 70% completion, and no progress on the third. What’s worse is aside from blog entries, and a tiny bit of quilting early on, I set those things aside. And my energy and motivation continued to fall.

With the help of a friend, I realized that I am actually being pretty ridiculous. I know the things that will energize me. Quilting, writing, reading. Working on projects that will further my long-range plans. So let me present you with two scenarios.

  1. Whenever I really invest in quilting, writing, reading, and other activities that energize me, I am able to tackle the things that need to be done. It’s like magic. I return to the deadlines and the results are very satisfying.
  2. When I tell myself that I need to finish my to-do list and THEN I can do one of the energizing activities as a reward for getting my work done, my already sluggish output eventually screeches to a halt or results in less than satisfactory results.

In the first scenario, I accomplish all kinds of things. My spirits are high, as is my motivation. I get lots of good ideas and am able to implement them without too much difficulty.

In the second scenario, I get even less done. I might slog through a few of the most critical things, but truth be told, it is not my best work.

It’s not that I need to play and take a total break. But taking significant things from my life and putting them on the back burner because they aren’t on the top of the priority list turns out to be self-defeating over time.There are things in my life that are not in the top priority list that are still a significant part of my life. Putting them on the back burner as an incentive to do the things that I “should” do first does not really work. But when I stop “thinking” and revert to automatic pilot, scenario two is the default setting.

If I incorporate the energizing activities as a regular part of life, I’ll end up being productive, less resentful. It turns out that getting everything done first before doing the things that feed us is actually counter-productive when viewed  from the moments when I feel most alive and creative.

I can’t go back and get these last few weeks back, but I can sprinkle my life with the things that will make life more colorful and energizing.

The new semester is looking brighter already.

My Recent Adventures with The Cat in the Hat

The Disappearing Blog Posts

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, 1957

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, 1957 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in more than two weeks. A few people asked me what was going on. I asked myself what was going on. How could something that I wanted and enjoyed disappear from my calendar? Unfortunately, it seemed to have devolved into just one more thing that showed up on my to-do list twice a week. And increasingly, it became one of the things that kept getting put aside.

Interestingly, the subtitle of this blog is TIME, SPACE, MONEY, THINGS.. This post is all about focusing on the THINGS part of it. And who better to start this literary journey than those endearing creatures from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat—Thing 1 and Thing 2. Aren’t they just so cute? Wouldn’t it be fun to have around?

images

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading this book or having it read to you, you’ve missed out. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard it and then read it as I was growing up and then with my own children after that. I think this summer, I may have to introduce Mr. Logan to The Cat

Story Time

Sally and her brother (who serves as the narrator) are left alone while their mother goes out for the afternoon, entrusting them to follow the rules. Because it is raining, they are indoors. They are bored as they sit in front of the window just looking outside at the rain.

That’s when the Cat in the Hat shows up. A rather insistent fellow, he’s not put off by our narrator’s recitation of his mother’s rules. He keeps insisting that they need to have fun and that there is lots of fun to be had even when it’s raining outside. Over the course of the next undetermined length of time, the CitH shows them a variety of activities that they can do, all of them threatening to mess up the house and get the the two children in trouble. Even the talking pet fish tries to get them to make the Cat go away, but the Cat isn’t budging.

images (1)As if the Cat in the Hat weren’t causing enough trouble on his own, he went outside to retrieve a box. When he opens it, out bound Thing 1 and Thing 2. These two appear to be on an unmitigated mission to create total mayhem. Their success can be measured by the increasing dismay you see on the two youngsters’ faces as they become increasingly worried about how their mother will respond to the mess upon her return.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I’ll stop there. The Wikipedia link above has the rest of the story if you can’t stand the suspense. If you have a child in your life (or maybe even if you don’t), you might want to invest in the book. If you like this story, you might want to pick up The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, too. I might have to pick up another copy. I’ll use Mr. Logan as an excuse.  <wink, wink!>

My Own Thing 1 and Thing 2

If you’re a follower of my blog, you may recall (Come on, it hasn’t been THAT long!) my struggle with an overwhelming series of projects and responsibilities. While I’ve made some minor progress in my attempts at clearing away the list of tasks, it takes a lot longer to get out from under the pile than it ever took to create it. I sometimes am not very productive. Or at least, not very productive in MY opinion.

images (1)The problem is that I tend to get overwhelmed, so that even when I have time to work on things, I don’t always take full advantage of it. I realized that there is a separate organization issue involved in making progress on these projects. It’s not about just time management, but thing management–the physical organization of stuff. If I motivate myself to work on a particular project but can’t find the pieces of paper and other paraphernalia I need, I am soon at a dead end. Reaching that point reminds me of how I would if the Cat in the Hat brought Thing 1 and Thing 2 to visit me. Except that in my case, I also have Thing 48, Thing 79, and Thing 6,350, and all of the Things in between (too numerous to mention by name). And while 2 of them look really cute, they lose their appeal long before 6,350.

images (1)Duh! It turns out that once there are that many things, it doesn’t matter if they’re ones I want to spend time with or I feel obligated to spend time with. There are just plain too many of them. I am overwhelmed by ALL of them, pleasurable or otherwise. It’s like stress and eustress. Good stress, bad stress: to our bodies, it’s all the same, and too much is too much. My containers in were overflowing in multiple categories.

Return of the Blog

images (1)Which brings me back to my blog. Every time I thought about getting back to it, there were so many loose ends, so many THINGS that I needed to resolve. How many two-part (or more) ideas had been left undone? I know that the blog benefits are that you can do things in any order you want. It’s MY blog. But I started feeling that my blog was being overrun by those hyperactive little Things threatening my sanity and my blog. I became immobilized. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities.

So I sort of lost sight of the clearing that I was working on through the winter season. But now, I’m back. In this moment of clarity, I can focus on eliminating the unnecessary clutter, and make room for what’s important. I will have access to what I need to work to on when a time slot is available. I can plot a course back to the clearing and begin to expand it. And meanwhile, I will be blogging again. I can also order those Dr. Seuss books for my summer visit with Mr. Logan.

See you next time!images

Listmaking: A Path to the Clearing

3186629203_bfcf404f50_mRemember this? It’s a photo I used in last Tuesday’s post, when I wrote about my decision to take responsibility for my over-crowded schedule. I would use my four-week semester break and figure out a way to tackle my to-do list. I chose clearing as my winter keyword–I was beginning to gain a sense of calm as I mapped out a plan for these four weeks.

I even declared a 30-day moratorium on saying yes to any new responsibilities in an effort to get a handle on my schedule. I am ready to embrace a more intentional mode of living, but I am finally getting to know myself as I really am. If there is space in my calendar–or even the illusion of space on my calendar, I’ll get sucked in by every interesting idea that comes along. So the moratorium, along with my winter keyword of clearing is providing just the right focus for my process. I envision three steps that will lead me to the clearing.

  1. Make a list of all the tasks that I need to complete.
  2. Use the available containers of time to assign tasks appropriately.
  3. Follow the schedule.

Making the List

The Master List

The Master List

I won’t lie to you. Making a list that includes all the projects and tasks I have committed myself to is a rather immense task all on its own. Luckily, I had a head start. Over the last few weeks, I’d been working on breaking down big tasks and writing them in my calendar to do on a particular day, even if not at a particular time of that day. So to make the master list, I just gathered up all the calendar pages, along with my notebooks where I’d periodically make running lists to help clear my head of all the stuff swimming around. When I got done, I had the Master List shown here..

It still seemed overwhelming, and it’s not even complete. Many of the projects on that page haven’t been broken down into manageable steps yet. So there was still lots of work to do, but at least I felt as if the enormity of the project was “contained” on that sheet of paper. I could use it to move to the next step, Or so I thought.

Assigning Time Slots

My recent Weekly Calendar pages

My recent Weekly Calendar pages

My approach to time is to arrange tasks and activities into blocks of time (containers). The main point of this approach is to avoid stuffing the container too full. Unfortunately, I seem to have this idea that as long as there is even a tiny pocket of space on the paper, something else can fit there. Somehow, my brain hasn’t mastered the concept that open space on the paper is not the same as available time in the day. The amount of space on the page cannot accurately represent the amount of time in the day. Unless I actually arrange the space on the page in pre-measured time increments. Which leads me to a related problem.

A related problem–as you can see, is that while I pack a mean suitcase, my packing of time slots is not as efficient. I don’t think about time in a linear way. I mean, I get that there are just so many hours in a day. And I really do get that each task takes a certain amount of time, which often can be estimated with some degree of accuracy.

Discoveries on the Path

At this point, in the process, I had two realizations.

First, I need to figure out a better way to “package” time, so that I don’t have so much free-floating time on my planning sheets. I need smaller containers with which to plan. (This concept relates to the fact that I’m better with small suitcases than large ones–the illusion that the larger space is significantly larger in my mind than it is in the physical world.

Second, it is abundantly clear that I have to be realistic about what can be accomplished in this four-week break. I didn’t get to this point overnight, and I’m certainly not going to dig out of it on some kind of magical time schedule. I need to prioritize the projects and tasks to determine where to focus my time and energy. I also need to remember that this IS supposed to be a break and to allow some time for some R&R. I will focus on during the break, and which will have to be scheduled in at a later time. And of course, those scheduled later will be handled at a slower pace, because the semester will be back in full swing.

Following the Schedule

This is where things really fell apart. Actually, this step was destined for disaster from the get go. The tasks that hadn’t been broken down tended to stay on the list undone. Then they got moved to another list, where they still remained undone. Don’t get me wrong, things were getting done, but I was spending too much time moving things from one list to another, time that could be used more productively. For one, tasks needed to be more clearly delineated. For another, I had fallen prey to the mistaken belief that if I worked hard on this plan thing, it would work. I had conveniently forgotten that many things are beyond my control.

Last week, some major challenges threatened to upset my (mostly) well-designed plan. Not one glitch, not two, but several of them came at me in rapid succession. While the clearing keyword makes sense, I found that it was too delicately balanced on the mountain of tasks. I had taken a few deep breaths and began to believe that i had a plan, but it didn’t take much time with the reality of those glitches to throw me into a state of near inertia. Projects that I thought I had handled suddenly became more complex, with problems buried in each step. Something had to give.

Adjusting the Plan

Lovely Beans, a coffee shop just around the corner from our apartment

Lovely Beans, a llocal coffee shop

On Thursday, I was still struggling to find some momentum. I needed a change of scenery to regroup. I needed to make some adjustments to the plan. The local coffee shop seemed to be the perfect solution. I grabbed a secret weapon that has proved useful in the past–index cards!

The time at Lovely Beans didn’t solve all my problems, but it allowed me to see things from a different perspective. I am now experimenting with a way of using the index cards to help me prioritize the tasks and build a more realistic path to that clearing. More details will follow.

In the meantime, we are headed to a wedding this week. It’s not THAT far away, but we decided to include an overnight as part of it and have a little R&R. Next week, I’ll post the dates of my upcoming do-it-myself quilting retreat.

How Big is Your Suitcase?

Packing for a Trip

Brown & Red Duffel Bag

Brown & Red Duffel Bag (Photo credit: rebecca)

I do my fair share of traveling. Not as much as others, I’m sure, but over time, I’ve gotten lighter and lighter about the way I pack. I have special things I like to bring, like things to read, and journals to write in, but when it comes to clothing, I pack easy wash-and-wear items that mix and match. I can fit enough of these items in a duffle bag to last 5-7 days. Doing laundry once during a week-long trip is not a big deal to me. If it’s a longer trip, I just do laundry more often. Personal care items are kept to a minimum. I make sure hostess gifts and souvenirs on the return trip are lightweight and sturdy. In recent years, even the “project” items has become almost as easy as packing my netbook and an electronic reader. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it does make life simpler when so much of what I’m working on and reading can be carried with those two items.

Sometimes, when I have packed and unpacked for trips of 7-14 days to Philadelphia or Albuquerque, I felt like I was re-enacting the scene from Mary Poppins where Julie Andrews was pulling out all kinds of impossible things from her carpet bag. But this method of traveling served me well, and I was doing it long before the airlines started charging for checked luggage.

96 Leather Passport Airline Ticket Holder

(Photo credit: ExecGifts)

It’s only been in the last eight years that I started travelling internationally. Four years ago, when I came to Taiwan, I could bring two checked bags and a carry-on as part of the ticket. This was especially important when I first moved here. With two suitcases, I could bring enough things to get me started in my new home. When I travel to the US to visit in the summer, I sometimes packed my smaller carry-on in the larger one, and then had the second one to bring things back from the US, like my quilting fabric that was stored there.

Last summer things changed, and  I had a ticket that only allowed for one checked piece of luggage. Going from Taiwan to the US wasn’t too difficult, since I was already accustomed to going back with one bag, but it wasn’t as easy on the return trip to Taiwan when I wanted to bring a few things that I bought in the US. In the end, I paid for the second suitcase because there were specific things we had planned for me to bring back. But this year, I will plan my trip accordingly.

Making Connections

My duffle bag served me well for many years, but eventually it just got too tired to make the treks through those airports. But roller bags are great, and I love mine with its brown, pink, and white stripes. I didn’t think ahead, so I don’t have a picture to post of it, but it may show up some time. My roller bag is truly a carry-on size, so in some planes, it actually fits under the seat. But it holds a lot, and I almost can get that Mary Poppins feeling when I use it. Plus, she didn’t have wheels on hers, although she did have that great umbrella that made going through security a non-issue.

As I travel, I’ve noticed that some people seem to think the size restrictions for carry-on luggage don’t apply to them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has boarded a plane to find that the overhead bins are inefficiently utilized because someone’s roller bag is too large to fit front-to-back in the bin. But then, I have traveled with groups and seen people whose suitcases overflow with things that take extra attention and maintenance. When I travel, I don’t want to have to worry about stuff. I like the freedom of having less stuff to worry about. That’s why I was particularly fascinated by my daughter-in-law’s blog post about the preparations she and my son were making for their trip to Europe last September. She has gorgeous photos of the trip, but I was also impressed with the preparations she made for the trip. Talk about traveling light!

Speaking of Connections

Yup, it's February - How you doin'?

(Photo credit: Esther17)

You may wonder why I’m writing about travel and suitcases. I think about scheduling time the same way I think about packing a suitcase. And while I might say things about people who can’t seem to pack light, I’m totally guilty of overpacking my calendar.I want to somehow take what I know about traveling and bring it to my daily life. I’m sure some of the people who frustrate me with the over-sized bags are probably great with managing their time and packing their calendars effectively.

That’s actually why I’m writing about suitcases tonight. I was working on a post about my new work on scheduling as I focus on my keyword of clearing (see previous post). I discovered that my system was flawed in that it didn’t give me breathing room for a few major surprises that came along Tuesday night. I’m working through those now, with a planning system that uses index cards in a new way (at least for me). A post explaining this system is forthcoming–just not tonight. Stay tuned! I’m hopeful that the new system will be better suited for my journey to the clearing.

The One that Won’t Let Go

Party hats at dawn 1

Party hats at dawn (Photo credit: Derek John Lee)

Today I publish the 20th post for Container Chronicles. That means I have been blogging for ten weeks, just over two months. People suggested for a long time that I start a blog, but I kept dragging my feet. Partly, I couldn’t decide what to write about. I had lots of requests for stories about my time here in Taiwan, but that wasn’t a topic that pulled me to the keyboard. Maybe someday I’ll do a small series as part of this blog, but my own struggle with sorting out my life and becoming more intentional about what I want to do is a bigger draw than a travelogue–at least for now.

I decided on Container Chronicles about three months before I launched it. During that time, I thought about the blog, I talked about the blog, but I did very little to actually start blogging. It wasn’t exactly perfectionism that kept me from it, but I did have a fear of sorts that it wouldn’t turn out like I imagined it. Which is crazy in many ways, because if I had stayed with that line of thinking, I’d still be thinking about it and I wouldn’t be publishing this 20th post. Sometimes, it helps me to make an external commitment, so I’m not just accountable to myself. So I came up with a gimmick. I gave the “promise” of a launch as a birthday gift to a long-time friend who had been pushing me to blog. On October 9, her birthday, I sent her an email that announced my intention to launch the blog in honor of her birthday. The announcement gave October 31 as the launch date. I missed by a couple of days, but it didn’t matter because my blog was real! I felt such a sense of accomplishment! Seeing the actual blog post as others saw it was amazing. I got excited updating my stats and seeing how many people visited my blog. I wanted that feeling to keep going.

CSS Bar Charts

CSS Bar Charts (Photo credit: alykat)

Once I launched, I was determined to maintain a schedule. Twice a week seemed like a good starting point. Not too often, but often enough that it wouldn’t drift too far from my consciousness. I made a list of potential topics along with a schedule for posting them. I could start writing, schedule them to post, and move on to the next ones, keeping ahead of the schedule a bit. It was a good plan on paper, but in reality I struggle to meet the midnight posting deadline almost every time. It felt a little stressful, but I knew it was something I wanted to do, but every Tuesday and Friday, I found myself racing the clock to get it done. But seeing my “body of work” grow each week made it all worthwhile. Tuesdays and Fridays became “blog nights” in my world. I liked this new part of my world.

Then something strange happened.  People tried to help me. Not just the expected comments, like “Kudos for getting started.” Or,  “Wow, you’ve done this for how long? It looks great!” But a lot of unexpected ones as well. “Why are you adding something else to your schedule?” Or, “You do know that it’s OK if you skip a post or two, don’t you?” Or, “Maybe you shouldn’t put so much pressure on yourself.” I felt like I had to defend my blog and my decision to spend time on it. Sure, maybe I needed to figure out a way to not be up against the deadline as often, but even that didn’t bother me that much. But it was bothering a lot of other people on my behalf.

To be honest, I was baffled by that response. After all, when I was struggling with how to make time for quilting, no one tried to talk me out of it. I had a lot of support to keep at it, even though I was stressed by my inability to quilt regularly. Luckily, my friend Joycelyn* heard me when I was pushing too hard to make quilting fit into a life already overflowing with responsibility. Even though I resisted at first, she helped me see clear to changing my attitude toward quilting (and therefore helping me to have SOME rather than no quilting in my life). Joycelyn also understood the satisfaction I was getting from blogging and commitment to continue it. But my puzzlement over the concerns of others was still baffling.

my new table and computer

my new table and computer (Photo credit: slackware)

Then it dawned on me. If someone watches (or imagines watching) me while I’m working on my blog, it looks no different than when I’m grading papers online, or when I’m doing an editing job, or when I’m working on the textbook project, or when I’m answering student emails, or working on any of the other multitude of tasks that I do at my computer. In fact, if someone took a picture of me doing each of those activities, and then put those pictures side by side in a row, it might be difficult to see any difference, particularly if they are taken from the back. I like to think if the pictures were taken from the front, there would be more a glint in my eye as I worked on the blog. From the back, however. these four pictures would likely look the same. On the other hand, if someone saw me at the cutting table or at my sewing machine, they could clearly see the difference. The quilting activities would appear to be creative and relaxing, even fulfilling, maybe just because they aren’t happening at the computer.

What I know now is that twice a week, I accomplish something tangible. I add two posts to a blog that didn’t exist three months ago. I find that I want to do more. While I will still spend my focused quilting retreats a few times a year, the blog gives me something that quilting isn’t satisfying right now. I am learning as much about process, both in terms of blogging itself as well as what helps me find meaning in the rest of my life. Blogging has become a tool that helps me de-stress, that helps me clear away a lot of mental clutter. In the end, it pushes me to reexamine my life  In the end, it may even open up more quilting time. It can certainly help me decide the purpose on which I want to spend my time. It can help me focus. But for now, it pushes me to finish this post so I can publish by midnight.

*Joycelyn knows well the satisfactions of blogging. Check out one or all.

Nine Paths

Farther to Go!

give me a daisy

Time in a Bottle

glass bottles

glass bottles (Photo credit: eselques0)

In the song alluded to in the title, Jim Croce writes:

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do once you find them

These words seem to be nearly universally true. It’s much more common to hear someone bemoan the lack of enough time than it is to hear people complain about having too much of the stuff. And unlike money, it can’t be shared or given away. No matter who we are, we all have the same 168 hours each week.

In my last post, I wrote about how one view of time management pairs the concept of time with money, using similar verbs and principles to discuss the management of both. While this model is a popular one, it seems that it can lead to frustration and regrets. Not all budgets work out as planned. It’s hard enough to have budget challenges in one area of life without having it in both. I suspect that in reality, whether one has a stronger desire for an orderly ledger sheet or a streamlined environment is more about personality and personal preference than about the actual methods one uses to manage time.

I get more excited about an orderly kitchen, rows of books neatly lined up on shelves, and colorful fabric stacked in open shelving. That kind of breathing room makes me smile because the space is comfortable and inviting. I like the idea that open space means I can add something beautiful that comes into my life, like a beautiful vase or a woven basket, without it getting lost in endless clutter.

I like to think of time in terms of space. If I have a set of boxes or baskets, I know how much I can fit into those containers. If I try to put too much into it, it will overflow, or look cluttered. My sense of aesthetics is helpful in this regard. I can SEE when things look too messy, too disorganized,

Imagine a calendar page that has a sense of space. That something could be added without the whole thing coming apart. This model of time management appeals to me. Tasks can be seen as physical items that fit into containers of time. The containers can be in different sizes: a day, an hour, a week, ten minutes. I can schedule my tasks into these containers of time. Leave some containers open for the unexpected things that come along. Room to breathe.

With that kind of model, maybe I can move toward arranging the time for the things I want to do once I find them. For now, I’m happy to take the time to find the things that I most want to fit into my containers of time.

Time is Money?

Time is Money

Time is Money (Photo credit: Olivia Alcock)

I’m not one to argue with a “time”-honored cliche started by Benjamin Franklin, and I get the general idea behind the words. The problem for me (and for many others, I suspect) is that the way we talk about time and money tends to affect the way we think about them. And thinking about time and money in the same way can create havoc in the way I manage my time.

It starts when I think about time as something that can be managed on a ledger sheet, balanced at the end of each month. Don’t get me wrong. I will admit there are similarities between time and money that can be helpful. I’m all about planning and managing time, but using the same principles for time and money seems to break down at critical moments. Let’s look at the way we use the same verbs for describing both time and money  management.

We budget. With money, we make a plan; we budget our money. We make a list of the expenses we have each month. We allot money for special projects; we set our long-range financial goals. With time, it is also important to budget our time, to plan for the routine things that need to be done. We consider short-term projects and long-term goals for what we want to accomplish and try to plan accordingly.

We spend. With or without a plan, we spend both money and time. Whether we follow our plan or go with our impulses, we have an outlay of time and money. We spend money for many purposes: necessity, pleasure, security, satisfaction, meaning. We spend time for many of the same reasons. One big difference: while we can stop unnecessary spending, we can’t stop the clock. Which leads me to my last time/money management verb.

We saveWhen it comes to money, we save for our long-term goals. We are willing to put off gratification today for something worthwhile in the future. When we don’t spend money on today’s desires, it can be saved and used for something else at a later time.  We look for ways to save time, but regardless of whether we eliminate a task or finish a project more quickly than we anticipated, the saved time can only be used for something else in the moment. We can’t put time into some kind of savings account to be used for a future project. Unlike money, saved time cannot be put away for a rainy day. Once it passes, regardless of whether we’ve used it well or wasted it, it’s gone.

In my organizational matrix, time is one of the three axes I need to consider. I clearly want a different relationship with time. One that is less nebulous. One that lets me visualize time as a series of containers. Containers that have a set amount of space. Containers that will hold activities and projects in a way that allows me to breathe.

I plan to explore this kind of time management system, in which I can arrange activities and projects without over-stuffing the containers. Maybe a perspective removed from the verbs of money management will allow me to examine the other two legs of the matrix–space (resources) and to-do lists–in a more relaxed and productive way.

Coming up next:  Time in a Bottle

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.

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Why a Blog about Containers?

I might as well tell you up front. I’m a geek when it comes to containers. When I go to someone else’s home, I always notice the plastic and glass containers in the kitchen; the bookshelves and baskets in the living room; the vases and bowls in the dining room. Heaven help me if these items are color-coordinated with each other and their surroundings. In the midst of coffee and conversation, I still take mental notes of how I can duplicate the organization in my own living space. I have to admit that sometimes, I actually feel twinges of container envy.

Now you can ask anyone who knows me. I’m not a big shopper. I love bookstores, but as for going shopping for the sake of shopping—definitely not me. But when I go into a container store or the container section of a shop, I am mesmerized by the colors, the textures, the possibilities. I can hardly tear myself away. I try to dream up some reason that I should buy one, or two, or a dozen.

Before you think that I need container therapy, let me assure you that I am not really as obsessive as it appears. But I have discovered that containers provide an interesting approach to the way I think about things—not just keeping things neat and organized, but also how to think about time, money, ideas, projects, and dreams.

I have accomplished many things in my life, but I often get bogged down with too many possibilities, too many ideas, and I become immobilized and overwhelmed. The result: ideas get buried instead of shared; dreams lie dormant instead of coming to fruition; and journeys are abandoned before they are begun. I plan to explore the use of various types of containers to organize and categorize my ideas, my supplies, my time, and my resources. I can sort out the materials that I collect for the projects that call to me. I can be in a position of making choices rather than one of spinning my wheels.

That is my reason for beginning Container Chronicles, to bring a sense of order, purpose, and excitement into my life. I look forward to sharing what I learn from this “container perspective.” I invite you to share in the discussion.