Organization Man

I am on a life-long quest for three things: a stain remover that truly removes stains, an adhesive that really holds, and an organization system that actually keeps me organized.

During a particularly awesome night of partying, I became convinced that duct tape was the answer to all three, and to this day my dog refuses to have anything to do with me.

As elusive as the first two are, the quest for them is relatively straightforward: something either works or it doesn’t. (So far, the “Doesn’t” column looks like a California freeway during rush hour and the “Does” column looks like a dirt path in Iowa at 3 a.m.)

Alas, the quest for the perfect time-management system involves actual work — which even a casual glancer at these blitherings knows is like Kryptonite to me. Nonetheless, from time to time I don my big-boy pants and go in search for yet another candidate, only to be soundly disappointed.

Back in the day, when we used actual pen and paper — kids, a “pen” is like a stylus but ink comes out of it; “ink” is like what you get at a tattoo parlor but way less painful; and “paper” is like a tablet but you don’t have to recharge it or connect it to Wi-Fi — my favorite system was the Day-Timer®, which not only promised to keep you organized, but contained within it a whole bunch of nifty ways to waste time. I’m sure in the right hands it would keep you organized, but mine were not the right hands. On the other hand, (if you’re counting, that makes three hands), the Day-Timer® people succeeded well in the time-wasting department, and I was able to rack up countless hours organizing and reorganizing my organization system without actually doing anything productive.

Then I moved on to Stephanie Winston’s deceptively simple TRAF system, in which you deal with a particular item by deciding whether to Toss, Refer, Act, or File it. The downfall of this system was that it entails actual decision-making, which is the second cousin twice-removed from actual work. I may write a book about my DRAFT system, which incorporates Ms. Winston’s four actions and adds an embellishment of my own – Defer. The D word is placed first in my system not only because it makes a catchy acronym, but because in applying Stephanie’s principles I found myself simply reorganizing my pile without making any decisions about what to do with it.

Probably the system that comes closest to the way I work was devised by the humorist Robert Benchley and immortalized in an essay whose title I forget that appeared in a book whose title I forget. (I tried Googling the thing but I was unsuccessful; I have the book on a shelf, but it is in another room of the house, and getting up to find it is perilously close to actually doing something.)

Anyway, as nearly as I can recall, Mr. Benchley one day vowed to get organized. He made a list of things to do and prioritized it. He started do the highest-priority thing on the list, and got distracted by what we now know as bright, shiny objects. After attempting to attack a few other high-priority items with the same result, he discovered that he got a lot more done by simply turning the list upside down.

Mr. Benchley’s essays are way funnier than mine — after all, he got to hang out with Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker, for God’s sake — but in this case, I took very seriously his time-management tip and turned my list upside down, intending to attack the list from the bottom up, reasoning that the lower-priority items would be more attractive and easier to accomplish.

But once again, I was foiled by actually having to put attention on something with the intention of doing something about it.

So, for now, I will continue to use my patented RANDOM system. (There’s a best-seller for you, if only I could figure out some clever phrase or series of words for which RANDOM is the acronym. Suggestions are welcome.) Anyway, my system consists of doing whatever comes to mind at any given time, regardless of priority or importance. The theory is, eventually I’ll get almost everything accomplished anyway, so why bother to prioritize in the first place?

And that’s about as far as I’m going to take this essay, regardless of how complete it is. I’m bored with it now, and something else suddenly seems like a lot more fun. Now I just have to figure out where I put the duct tape.

CC BY-ND 4.0 Organization Man by Jay Mitchell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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