No reinventions needed

Can you believe that a third of 2019 is already gone? So much has happened in the last four months that I’m still trying to play catch-up on a few things that have fallen through the cracks… including my blog schedule. That said, topics to write about, which include fitness, nutrition and general well-being, are always on my mind. So, the time has come to make writing a priority again. This time, a tale of how not “reinventing the wheel” can lead to a better state of well-being.

Since we’re on the subject of lots going on and things falling through the cracks, it might seem a wee bit ironic that part of the reason I’ve been disorganized is because I’d been trying to get more organized.

I thought I had a good organizational system. It worked for me. I had calendars for both my personal and professional lives, which mainly contained times for meetings, appointments and events. Everything else (read: tasks)… “It’s all right here.” I’d point at my temple. The only issue I had was that I’d spent entire days working on mental checklists, only to fall into bed wondering what exactly I had accomplished.

At the beginning of the year, when most people decide to be better at something, I decided that it would probably be in my best interest to write my tasks down on paper. This, I believed, would make me more organized and productive.

Unfortunately, my only experience with writing task reminders consisted of times when I should’ve owned stock in post-it notes.

I loved post-it notes! My to-dos and reminders were always written down. However, my method wasn’t exactly the best for staying organized or productive. I wrote sticky reminders to myself and then set them aside. Where I went wrong, I believe, was in not actually referring to said notes on a regular basis.

I always had a daunting stack of notes, through which I dreaded looking. I couldn’t ever seem to find the note I was looking for, so I gave up and forgot about it or wasted time trying to remember the details of the note, which was frustrating, to say the least. Sometimes, usually months later, I would find a note (in a random place) when it was no longer relevant. And sometimes, I found a note reminding me of something I had to do, but the moment I found it happened at a time when I was in the middle of another project, so the note would be set aside and the process would repeat.

Needless to say, I gave up on writing to-dos and chose to rely on memory. I also developed a system for my appointments and meetings. I wrote them on a paper calendar, transferred them to my phone calendar, and set reminder alarms.

Fast forward to January 1, 2019 when I realized that some of my tasks in memory were continually being put on the sideline and had piled up. I figured there had to be a way, without writing everything down and losing it, to get more organized with my to do’s so I could be more productive.

Two years ago, I purchased a notebook and began writing task lists. That worked. Sort of. I mean, my stuff was definitely getting written down, but not everything was getting checked off in a timely manner and it seemed my lists were getting longer instead of shorter. It’s one thing to know in your head that you have a lot going on. It’s another thing to actually SEE what you have going on… and how much you AREN’T getting done.

So… I researched how people use lists to actually get things accomplished. Yes, I researched this. I felt that others must know something… some secret about staying productive… that I wasn’t aware of or had somehow overlooked. And that lead me to using technology.

Based on my research, I was under the impression that I should combine my calendars and to-do lists and go all digital. I read that I’d have more reminders and notifications to help me accomplish tasks without having an additional notebook to carry around everywhere I went, reminding me of how unproductive I apparently was. I would get things done and be checking tasks off my list and giving myself a pat on the back for being the most productive me ever.

More research led to multiple sources that listed (irony?) the “best” apps to use to get organized and I immediately started trying them out. One by one, I downloaded the apps on the lists.

And then the REAL nightmare began.

Do you know how many apps there are for making lists and being organized? I don’t either, but lets just say there are at LEAST a hundred of them. All of which I tried… All of which failed to help me be more productive.

Most of the apps were either so basic or so convoluted that they didn’t do what I needed them to do so I lost interest and stopped referring to them. Many sent reminders to complete tasks so often that I started ignoring the reminders. Some had free “trial” versions which were very limited and I couldn’t use them enough to know if they would help. (Complete three tasks before I have to get the paid version? Really? I suppose that’s the app developers’ way of getting a person to purchase the app, but what they seemed to fail to understand is, if a person can’t actually use enough features to see if the app will work, then why would the person consider purchasing the app?)

I discovered that most of the apps contained some of the features I wanted, but didn’t have all of the features I needed (without purchasing the app to see if the features were there, which was not guaranteed), so I continued looking for apps that would be more useful or with which I could actually accomplish something while using the free version. Sometimes, I’d even forget about the apps that were kind of useful until the work involved in bringing them up to date with my current tasks didn’t seem worth the effort and so I deleted them.

Some apps lasted less than a day. I literally downloaded the app, was immediately disappointed, and deleted it. Some lasted several days, most times because I was only half-interested in it and left to look for another better app. Some, I lost interest in as I grew tired of constantly typing items into my phone or ipad.

To be fair, some apps did work for me on my phone (android), but were nowhere to be found for my ipad (apple) and vice versa. Or they worked great on one, and could be found on the other, but didn’t work the same… features were missing on one version. The worst was when I got an app on my phone and my ipad, but they didn’t sync. This was the most disappointing. My choice was to either enter my tasks twice, once on each device, or just abandon the app altogether.

After four months of honest effort, I gave up.

At the beginning of April, I not only had a headache from trying and not finding an app that could help me get more tasks done, but I’d also acquired the additional stress of not getting a whole lot done while trying to find a digital way to help me be more productive.

In the end (about 3 weeks ago), I just admitted defeat, deleted all of the “productivity” apps and bought a new paper planner that included a monthly and weekly calendar, as well as a section at the end for taking notes and… listing tasks! (Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Palm to forehead.)

So far, the only downside to my new planner is sometimes I forget it when I’m on the go. However, I’ve worked this out by checking my planner every night before bed so I have an idea of what lies ahead for me the following day and upcoming week. That is also when I make sure I’ve added reminders in my phone for important events, meetings, appointments, and tasks. I also check my planner every morning to see everything I need to accomplish that day and record it all up here (points to temple). Of course, the reminders that I put in my phone also help. And finally, when I remember (nobody’s perfect), I check my planner during the day and when I get home, so I remember to do little tasks I can get done quickly.

Four months into 2019, I realized that I went back to my original system. I just had to change the type of analog calendar I had been using to one that included a task list that I could easily reference.

Was it a waste of time? Yes and no. Yes because I was less productive while attempting to be more productive. But also no because, as I emerged from the first quarter of the year, I felt like I learned a valuable lesson. And learning lessons is never a waste of time.

My lesson was the following.

If your system for anything in your life MOSTLY works for you, it isn’t necessary to spend precious time trying to reinvent your entire system. If it’s lacking in some area, figure out that specific area and find a way to change just that one thing. My system regarded organization and productivity. Yours may be nutrition… In which case, you can switch up the quality or quantity of a couple of foods instead of changing your entire diet. Or fitness… you can going for a walk instead of just sitting doing nothing.

Small changes to a system lead to more happiness and less stress. Happiness and less stress result in better well-being. Well-being results in a healthier you! And isn’t that what we all want?