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Your Mileage Will Vary

This might seem like some "fine print," but it isn't really: It is distinctly possible that you will get nothing useful out of this blog.

Everyone is different.  We all have different talents and shortcomings, different wishes and fears.  And this is fantastic, because this is the root of the diversity that will hopefully keep humanity growing as a culture for a very, very long time.

So why should you believe me when I write that tool X or method Y will help get and keep you organized?  You shouldn't!

There is no silver bullet to issues like personal productivity.  What works for me won't necessarily work for you, and vice versa.  There's no way around it.  And you should run away screaming from anyone who tells you they've found a globally relevant way to improve personal productivity, cuz they're just trying to fool you.

People's brains are all different, so one size very definitely does not fit all - et vive la difference!

Since I recognize and admit this, it would be silly to focus only on specific methods and tools that I think will help the personal productivity of others, because I cannot possibly be right for everyone.  Of course, I will write about methods and tools that I think are particularly useful - in the hope that some others may find them useful too - but I'm also going to write about the meta-level - the more abstract level in which you ask yourself questions, and their answers will tell you which methods and tools work best for you.  I can't read your mind, but I can help you learn to know your own mind.

So you're going to find a lot of questions in my posts, questions directed at you.  Questions that I've asked myself too.  They're the questions that have made me think about how and why I try to keep myself organized, and how I've gone about trying to organize myself.

A lot of the stuff in this blog will have to do with my own answers to those questions - the solutions that have worked for me.  But you're different.  So if my solutions don't work for you, hopefully you can use the questions themselves to come up with your own solutions.

And I won't mind answering your questions - as best I can - via the comments you can leave on this blog.  I do this out of motivated self-interest: I'm not perfect, and a really good question can lead me to correct my own mistakes.  But also, of course, it might help you too.

Why should you think you need to be any better organized than you already are?  What is it about your life that makes you think you need to be better organized?

Are people just telling you this?  Don't just take their word for it.  Work it out for yourself.  They might be wrong.

Are you missing appointments and deadlines?  This is a matter of discipline.  No method or tool can keep your appointments for you.  You can get software that will ping you when it's time to go places and do things, but then you need discipline to make sure you add all your appointments into it.  Discipline is still needed.  It's always needed.

You don't need to make yourself into a Buddhist monk, though.  All you need is to establish a routine that includes a few minutes where you can, without any rush at all, consider your tasks, appointments, etc. and make sure they're all in order.  I use the time in the subway on the way to work, and while I'm watching TV in bed at night.  It takes me five minutes a day to make sure I've got all my ducks in a row.

I believe strongly that it's better to spend five minutes a day instead of half an hour a week.  It's harder to find a free half-hour than to find five minutes.  Five minutes is more likely to fit in between all the other things you do.  A half-hour is more likely to be interrupted, and become an interruption, in your life.

Are you always rushing from one urgent task to another? Maybe you've got too much on your plate.  What's on your plate anyways?  How important is it all?  And who says it's urgent?  Do you actually think it's urgent?  Or has someone else told you it's urgent?

Sometimes it helps to look at urgency from the other side: just how bad will it be if This Urgent Task doesn't get done?  And for whom?

What counts as important?  We can often get wrapped up in things that seem to snowball out of control.  The funny part is that sometimes, by the time the thing gets out of control, it's lost its importance for you.  So now you're stuck doing this thing that takes up all your time - and doesn't even really matter.

This motivates the need for regular periods of reflection.  These are times when you stop what you're doing, take a step back, review what you've done, why you're doing it, what's to gain and lose by continuing on, and tweaking your game plan if things aren't quite right.  It's like a course correction: you (presumably) know where you're going, but every once in a while you have to tweak how you get there.  If you don't keep an eye on your course - and correct it when needed - you may end up somewhere else entirely.

Do you think being more organized will make you happier?  Well, it might, if you know where you're going.  Good organization can improve your productivity and increase your sense of accomplishment.  If, on the other hand, you don't know where you're going, you'll only go nowhere faster.

Organization and personal productivity are means, not ends.  You need good goals too, or nothing else will matter.

So why aren't you happy?  Is it that you're not getting what you want?  What are your desires? Are your desires even reasonable?  Are you biting off more than you can chew, or are you just chewing into something nasty?

Be specific!  It's not enough to "not like your job" because there's so many aspects of a job that you can not like.  I love to teach.  I love to do research.  And I just fracking hate, detest, and abhore the administrative parts (which I call administrivia).  Unfortunately, the administrivia will easily consume most of my time if I let it.  So I try my darnedest to avoid administrivia.  Sometimes that means giving up a teaching activity or a research activity that I would have enjoyed.  But in the long run, I'm happier with the absolute minimum of administrivia in my life.  In the long term, this has worked out well for me.

These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself.  I'll revisit many of these questions over time.  And so should you, plus any other questions that you yourself think of.

Don't try to deal with them all at once.  Make a list of them.  Pick one and ponder it (in your spare time, as you drift off to sleep, on the subway to work... wherever) till you can answer it.  The other questions can wait.  One thing at a time will get you there.

Remember, your mileage will vary.

(And in case you're wondering: I keep myself organized because I'm lazy.  By staying organized, I end up with more free time to do whatever comes over me.  For me, it's all about having free time.)

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