Some people go to church on Sundays. I go to office supply stores.
Some people see organisation as a handy but ultimately dispensable tool; a way to corral the events and chores of the day into a docile herd of cattle to drive from the Texas of the morning through the Arkansas of the afternoon, finally coming to rest in the quiet Missouri of the night.
I see organisation as a religion, and every horizontal line on the pages of my daily planner is an ironclad commandment that will keep my eternal soul safe from the fires of damnation and the Devil’s searching hands¹.
Some people are content to let life come as it may and make do with writing the occasional reminder on their Google Calendar that Cobalt Larry expects the money from the book they’re keeping back on Friday and the vig is running².
I pray for these misguided fools, but not often, because I don’t want to throw my schedule out.
I’m trying to make two points here. The first is that suck it Rangers, we won the Series. The second is that my childlike faith in the power of organisation to get me everything I have ever wanted is, at one and the same time, absolutely steadfast and almost completely bordering on the mindless. Especially when taking into consideration the fact that my complex and multi-faceted plans – which can be ludicrously short on detail, but make up for that by being even ludicrouslyer shorter on plausibility³ and correct word usage – rarely go off without a hitch. And that hitch is almost always due to the fact that when it comes time to actually do something, I instead always choose to watch TV.
My reasoning for this is entirely justified. I watch TV because I really, really want to. And while, somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m all too aware there’s an Excel file lying dormant in the far reaches of my computer, at the front of my mind, and much bigger, there’s an awareness that I like to sit on the couch and watch Dexter much more than I like doing any real and actual work, or, indeed, moving much. If it wasn’t for the fall programming break, I would have starved to death years ago.
In principle, the end goal of this kind of hyper-organisation is one of freedom. It stands to reason that if I can get all the things I want to get done out of the way in an intelligent, timely manner, then I will be a) more productive in general, b) more relaxed, and c) left with more time to enjoy my leisure time, as there will be fewer things to crowd in and demand my attention throughout the day.
In practice, this usually goes south in a matter of hours, if not minutes, because inevitably, I fall victim to my various psychological resistances⁴ to accomplishing anything beyond keeping my Spam folder clean of advertisements for Viagra⁵ or, ironically, spamming everyone foolish enough to not have blocked me from their feed yet with constant, unremitting Facebook status updates⁶.
Trying to move past this self-destructive streak is like Tobey Maguire fighting the Sandman in Spiderman 3. No matter what punches you throw, no matter how relentlessly you fight, no matter how hard you hit… you’re still in a terrible, terrible, bad, awful film, and Topher Grace is the only one getting away with his dignity intact.
Knowing this, I still press on.
After returning from the US earlier this year, I decided I needed a plan. I decided I needed direction and structure and motivation. I decided I would put together a list of 20 goals – no more, no less – and knock them over, one by one. I chose to keep the list contained to 20 because I knew I have a tendency to over-burden myself, and, by attempting to do too much, in fact accomplish nothing⁷.
20! I said to myself. And no more! I refuse to fall into the same trap again!
25! I said to myself, one week later. And no more!
I gave myself three months. 25 things across 12 weeks; a mix of the easy and the hard, the time-sensitive and the expansive, the achievable and the requiring of divine assistance.
Given that Plan A hadn’t gone as hoped, I decided to name this goal list Plan B.
I enjoy headings.
I completed 17 of the 25 items by the time my self-imposed time limit was done, and the 8 remaining were in varying stages of completion. Not bad, for a first run, I said to myself. And I can’t believe Joe Biden didn’t write back. I thought he was cool. And then, as I was coming back (again) from the USA (again) a few weeks ago, on my Virgin Australia flight, thirty thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean, I started sketching out Plan B, Part Two.
Again, 20 items. Again, 12 weeks. But this time, I decided, I would expand my knowledge base. I would husband the gaps in my ability with the intelligence of others. I would create a Facebook group, and ask for the insight and advice of the people I knew. I would access their knowledge and know-how and make my tasks simpler. Running 10K? What do I know about running 10K? Nothing, that’s what.
But I knew I knew people who did.
I created my group, sent out my invites, and got to the work of creating my list of goals.
Very quickly, the replies started to pour back in, and I nodded, sagely, to myself. There it is, Simon, I thought. Proof. Undeniable proof. You’re a genius. No one has ever thought of anything this smart ever. And I started reading through the accumulated wisdom of my peers.
Alice: Hey, do you know every time you update something, I get an email?
Ben: Hey, do you know every time you make a change on this group, Facebook emails me?
Rachel: ARGH WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING TO MY INBOX?
If you have no experience with the new Facebook Groups system, what you may not know is that the new default settings mean:
- People don’t have the option of choosing to say yes to group membership. If you invite them, they are automatically added and it’s left up to them to choose to leave.
- People have to additionally uncheck, rather than check, their approval of receiving notifications about each and every single thing that happens in said group.
If you have no experience with the new Facebook Groups system, what you quickly find out is that everyone gets annoyed by:
- Receiving 40 odd emails informing them of every single thing that’s written, in a group that
- they didn’t agree to joining in the first place.
After posting groveling apologies within the group, as my status and via email, and wondering aloud at the wisdom of a system that could, technically, allow me to add anyone I was friends with to a group titled anything I wanted, take a screenshot of their membership, and then send said screenshot to their place of employment, families, and Fantasy Baseball leagues, I started hastily deleting people from the group so they didn’t receive more of the same messages.
Once again, I blame Zuckerburg for everything.
That has ever happened to me.
Wildly non-helpful mass emailing of the people I had asked to help me aside, I managed to get my twenty-goal list up and exposed to the accumulated genius of the group.
- 8 weeks of Spanish revision
- Complete and launch an in-progress e-publishing idea
- Complete and submit an in-progress non-fiction proposal
- Complete and submit an in-progress scripted TV pilot pitch in the States
- Write four pieces for magazine submission
- Write my reading list for 2011
- Write my writing list for 2011 (list of lists are some of my favourite lists)
- 12 weeks of working out and swimming
- Take my tri-weekly runs from 5K to 10K (or 3.1 miles to 6.2 miles)
- Clean and organise everything
- A new laptop
- A new camera
- Pay off my credit card debt
- Write 4 pieces for TNB
- Work out where to take my Plan B in 2011
- Take better care of my skin
- Complete and submit an in-progress scripted TV pitch in Australia
- Plan out a vacation with some friends over Christmas
- Work out a way to live in the USA again
- Make $50K.
Some are designed to be easy. Writing lists of books I want to read, or avenues of publication I’d like to follow up? Easy. Surprisingly fun. And a good way to get some items knocked off straight off the bat and build some momentum. And I don’t have to break anyone’s legs (or put myself in a position where someone will break mine) to pay off my minor credit card debt; I simply wanted to be aware of it.
I have less than no idea how to make fifty grand in twelve weeks. But I figured it’s good to have something to shoot for. Also, I’d really like fifty thousand dollars.
And after the initial hurdles, advice flooded in. Don Mitchell and Kristen Elde provided help with running tips and guidelines for how to avoid injury. Photographer friends gave me advice on good camera buys. People told me what worked for their skin, for making housecleaning easy, for pitching scripts. People mentioned friends of their I should get in touch with; and, if nothing good is on TV tonight, I’m sure I will.
So far I’ve completed items #6, #7, #10, and #11, and made a start, at least, on every single other item.
Which is just as well, because with my schedule, it’s really hard to get anything done.
¹ The damnation of wasted time, and the searching hands of the Devil of an unrealistic budget. Also of my friend Clue, who has boundary issues and makes us all feel really uncomfortable.
² And if Cobalt Larry don’t get his end, you best believe someone’s going in the cobalt.
³ Life List Item #82: Be Mayor of Somewhere.*
⁴ See: Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Paralysed/Maladaptive Perfectionism, and Gerard Butler-by-Proxy
⁵ Where do they keep coming from? Who keeps doing this?
⁶ Everything I think and do is interesting.
⁷ AKA Three Stooges Syndrome.