Over the past several weeks, I have read a number of post around the blogosphere about the organizational habits of people (specifically women) who really love lists. Actually, the love for lists and organization in general seems to be quite widespread (so says me, based entirely on anecdata).
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with liking to be organized. Kudos to people who pull it off using lists, and I certainly appreciate the appeal of colorful stationery. But, lists don’t really work for me and never have; quite the contrary.
To be honest, I am truly averse to lists, especially to-do lists. Averse, as in: they make me physically uncomfortable, like I want to jump out of my skin. (Again, that doesn’t mean lists are bad or that there is anything wrong with them.) I have just never managed to find any that is appealing or that does justice to the swarm of multicolored and shape-shifting, constantly moving and interacting abstract objects that are the tasks in my head (sort of).
This post is for the people who are like me and for the list lovers who haven’t met any “listless” (list-free?) specimens in the wild.
I am reasonably successful both professionally and personally, so obviously I somehow get things done. How do I stay quasi-organized?
** Recurrent appointments (both professional and personal): Class, discussion, office hours, group meeting, faculty meeting, a small number of important standing committees; the kids’s recurrent activities (such as after-school sports) — I know when those are, so I don’t need to put them on calendars or lists. The kids also remember their own recurrent obligations.
** Non-recurrent appointments (both professional and personal): One-off meetings, out-of-town travel, appointments of all stripes for self and kids… They get entered into my phone calendar, usually with two reminders each. I love how easy it is to just click on the date in an email and make an appointment. Entering appointments in my phone calendar is the ONLY way I have found that a) I don’t hate doing it with a burning passion of a thousand suns and b) once I am done entering, I am comfortable simply forgetting about until the reminder goes off. Kids’ activities also get listed on the large dry-erase calendar board (similar to this one) that we have in the kitchen. It has a bit of cork near the bottom, where we also tack birthday party invitations, the schedule of Eldest’s meets or Middle Boy’s games, and anything that may be more than a month out.
** Meal planning: I don’t do it. There are a number of things that I buy every week; for example, cereal, 3 kinds of milk, eggs; butter, deli, fruit, bread, cheese that go into DH’s and the older boys’ lunches, etc. Before I go on the weekly grocery run, I do a quick survey of the fridge/pantry to see what’s missing and, as I am about to leave, I also ask if there is anything anyone needs (usually there are a few items, or a reminder from DH to get toilet paper and the like). Once at the grocery store, I go by what looks good. I tour the store starting with dairy, then bread, meat, deli, and ending with produce; that way I see what meat looks good, as they don’t always have the same cuts, and also what I feel inspired to make. Afterward, I get the vegetables and other ingredients to complement. Sometimes some nice produce is inspirational and takes center stage. I suppose this can be considered planning meals on the fly. If I am tired or will be busy in the coming week, there will be a frozen lasagna one day, beef and vegetables for two-days worth of of soup or stew, and a two-days worth of pork roast with vegetables and potatoes; both of the latter take a while to cook but don’t require much tending and can be done in the evening; Eldest makes the frozen lasagna for us after he comes back from school. If I have the time and energy, I will cook dishes that have complicated prep, require more tending to, or are best eaten right away (e.g., stir-fry). But, generally, unless we have guests coming and I have specific dishes I want to make, or I am dead-set on trying something new (both can wait till the weekend, when I have some time), I don’t write out meal plans or create shopping lists based on recipe books the way many people seem to (and they seem to enjoy doing it).
** To-do lists (personal): Things like “Buy new pants for [insert kid]” I just sort of remember. Specifically, both DH and I remember them and forget them and remember them and forget them, and kind of remind each other a few times until one of us just does it. It sounds like it takes forever, but actually it doesn’t. Usually, these to-do things happen over the weekend, often en route to a playdate pick-up/drop-off or grocery-store run. Occasionally, they make it onto the family dry-erase board. I am not the artsy-craftsy type, so I don’t have long-term home projects that require careful planning (unless you count this book I am working on).
** To-do lists (professional): Teaching stuff is usually short term (write homework, write solution to homework, write exam, grade exam), so it’s easy to remember and then just do. Service stuff is often nearly brainless and short term, in which case it’s easy to remember. Anything on which I have to actually do some intellectually nontrivial work, I put in the email folded called “Pending.” I tried to have more specific folders, but it doesn’t work for me; I start obsessing where things should be classified and then I just don’t want to use any of it (I am guessing that’s why lists don’t work for me either; I have yet to find a list that is works with the way things are organized in my head). Anyway, “Pending” folder. Something comes in (requests to review paper or proposal, recommendation letters, etc.), I open email, note and highlight due date, and just dump it in the “Pending” folder. When things are done, they get moved to “Complete.”
As for research, the following is the only planning activity that gives me pleasure of the kind that some bloggers report making daily lists of small tasks does for them. I have a long-form CV in which I put everything. That means that, when I feel that we are nearing the submission of a paper, I put a tentative list of authors, a tentative title, and a tentative submission date in my “Papers in the Works” section. It makes me happy to see the stuff that’s cooking. I do the same for proposals, the talks that I am about to give, conference abstracts, but only looking at the list of my beautiful emerging papers gives me what I guess is a tiny short of dopamine.
I do make skeletons of papers and proposals. But the technical stuff that needs to be done just comes naturally, as the next logical thing. With students, I do write and email summaries of what we discussed and decide to do next.
** How do I plan my work day? I definitely don’t write anything out. If there are non-recurrent meetings, the phone calendar has already alerted me of those (and will again, a little before the meetings). There is recurrent stuff like teaching, and then there are things that are urgent and can take much of my time, especially during the semester. I have a day, occasionally two, per week that is meeting-free and wherein I try to squeeze some writing of papers or proposals (it’s usually clear which one when). Sadly, these blocks of time sometimes get eaten by urgent non-sciency tasks. Oh, well. When it’s proposal-writing time, I have an excuse to drop everything except teaching and nobody begrudges it! It’s awesome.
That’s about it, I think. Anything I forgot?
Anyone out there who is also list-averse yet manages to get things done? Or am I the only freak?