Thursday, September 15, 2011

Positive Planning

My brain sort of melted while I was pregnant with Penny. All the stuff that I used to keep in my head -- schedules, to-do lists, phone numbers, all of it -- it went away. I don't know if it was the pregnancy hormones and then the whole infant-care-sleep-deprivation thing, or simple aging, or what, but these days, I can't remember anything unless it's written down.

"You should totally come over Saturday, we're having a cookout and fireworks!" "Wow, sounds great, we'll definitely be there!" ... "Hey, what happened Saturday? Didn't see you all day!" "Saturday? Were we supposed to come over?"

Okay, I don't think I've ever actually missed something quite that exciting, but some variation on this has happened to me far too often in the last five years. If you don't send it to me in an email, or watch me enter it into my calendar, then there's a better than even chance that I'm not only going to forget to write it down and thus fail to be present, but not even remember it when you bring it up later.

I've been coping with the use of lots of note-taking devices. Matt and I maintain a set of Google Calendar shared calendars to keep track of appointments and parties and birthdays and anniversaries and school stuff. I also keep a calendar that helps me track things that aren't really our plans but which might affect our plans, like which weekends Braz has custody of his kids and when my parents are going to be out of town. We also have a paper calendar at home that's largely used for tracking when to change out Penny's insulin and which weeks we're supposed to write a check for the cleaning service.

I keep my day planner at work for keeping track of work tasks. Every time someone gives me something to do, I write it down, even if I'm going to do it immediately, because later in the week, I'm going to need to write a status report, and if it's not a crossed off item in my day planner, then I will more than likely have no memory of ever having done it. I maintain a separate "personal" to-do list that mostly stays tucked in my day planner, but when there are things I can only do at home, I email them to myself.

Whenever I get an email, if it requires any kind of action or response from me, then I leave it in my inbox until that action or response is complete. (If it's important, I'll leave it marked as unread, and if I think I might accidentally file it, I drop a category or star on it to make it easier to search.) It leads to a messy inbox, but I've tried systems where you move emails to an "action" folder, and I forget to go look at them. So, inbox it is. (Right at this moment, my work inbox has 15 items in it, and my personal email has 10. The oldest item goes back to April. Though after that, the oldest item only dates back to the beginning of August. I'm beginning to think I should just write off the April one entirely.)

It's an elaborate system, but it (mostly) keeps me chugging along.

But sometimes, it gets a little depressing, looking at this huge long list of items to do, and it feels like I never seem to get all that much done.

So yesterday I made up a new list. It was my list just for yesterday, and the tasks I really wanted to get done. Some of them were work tasks, some of them were personal. I included some goof-off reward time in there to help give me incentives (especially for the big stack of paperwork I'd been pretending I couldn't see for the better part of three weeks).

Then I hunkered down and did it.

I didn't finish everything on the list -- stuff came up to interrupt, as stuff always does -- but I did make enough progress to feel like yesterday was productive without being crazy. And I tried to keep the list short and realistic, so looking at it wasn't so daunting; I looked at it and thought, Okay, I can this. One task, and then I can go check Twitter or Google Reader. And then I did the task, and checked the interwebs, and then I did another task, and eventually the day was done.

It worked pretty well. I'm going to try it again today (5 things on the list, some big, some small), and we'll see how it goes. I'm feeling good about it for now, anyway, and that's all that really matters.

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