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Psychotherapy for the Chronic Switcher

There's an obscure rule in baseball for a situation that rarely occurs, when an ambidextrous pitcher faces a switch-hitter. The pitcher has to declare which arm he's going to throw with before the at-bat and stick with it, else the batter could keep jumping back and forth to either side of the plate in an endless game of one-upmanship that would make Tony La Russa's head explode. The intent of the rule is obviously to keep the game moving, but it also saves the pitcher from himself; it forces him to pick his weapon given the challenge he faces, and just go with his best stuff.

I need a rule like this when it comes to picking the tools I use to manage my system for getting things done. I know my last post gave the impression that I'm almost proud of changing my system more often than Barry Bonds changes hat sizes, but deep down I'm rather ashamed. I need something to force me to go with my strengths, and just throw strikes the best I can.

Someone suggested that I think about what causes me to monkey around with my system as much as I do, and what, if any, elements stay the same. Then maybe as a means of public psychotherapy, the hive mind can help me identify my best pitch.

To start, let's look at the reasons why I switch:

  • I'm an impressionable lad, and I desperately want to fit in - When I read through the forums here and see someone describing their system, especially some magnificent homegrown index card job, I can't help but think that I'm missing the boat. And because I fancy myself as a writer, I have a weakness for those damned Moleskines. Those guys knew what they were doing when they used Hemingway's name in the marketing copy; they hooked a whole generation of black-rimmed glasses-wearing, wannabe aesthetes like me. Any excuse to carry one around is good enough for me.
  • My work lets me get away with it - I call myself a writer, but my real job is taking care of my son. I need a system for my freelance work and household duties, but most of the time, the only tools I need are patience and a high tolerance for hearing "Old MacDonald" 400 times a day. Plus, my senses, not a formal to-do list, usually tell me what needs attention: the smelly diaper, the telltale thump and screech from upstairs, the mysterious red liquid seeping from under the couch. Thus, I only ever have a dozen or so projects and tasks that need to be moved at any given time, so it's not a major undertaking to switch.

Now with that in mind, here are some of the pieces of my myriad systems that always stay the same:

  • The paper inbox - No matter how I process them, I always have a paper tray on the corner of my desk for catching all the receipts, mail, and stray pieces of paper that flitter into my life. Whenever I'm feeing overwhelmed by my work, emptying this baby is the quickest way to Margaritaville.
  • Some sort of paper for capture - Even if I'm committed to a Byzantine, quadruple-syncing, all-digital solution, I still use paper for capturing ideas and jotting down new to-do's. It's quick, easy, and eminently flexible, which is what usually leads me to try a full-on paper system. These usually fall over after about a week though, because my fierce minimalist streak hates having to shuffle through piles of cards and rewrite messy notebook pages.
  • iCal - I know a lot of people have serious beefs with Apple's default calendar, but I've always used it for keeping my appointments. It's easy on the eyes, and it's good enough for my less than hectic schedule. In the systems that I've stuck with the longest, I also used iCal for my to-do lists, but they seem to fall apart when my writing workload gets too busy and I have trouble matching projects and actions.
  • An in-your face set of reminders or daily agenda - I always build in an obnoxious series of chirping and blinking alarms, or an easy way to produce a short list of things that must get done on a given day. Usually the best method for this is to sit down every morning, look at my whole list , and write down the 3-5 most important ones on a piece of paper.

So there you have it, a list of symptoms and the few tried and true potions and balms that always seem to soothe them. Now I ask you, my internet shrinks, to help me figure out the best way to put my shifty ways behind me. After writing this, I think I see a way out, but I want to hear which patterns and behaviors really stand out to you.

Erin Wade's picture

Sticking with a system

I think where a lot of people fall down on these things is in switching systems over and over again - we lose focus.

Instead of being aimed on being productive we get lost in the idea of the productivity system. Then, when a new system comes along it looks all shiny and attractive and we shift to trying that out as well.

Partly we're probably all vulnerable to this because we have a lot to do and keep track of - why else would we be looking for a productivity system to manage it? However, the action of looking for and considering a productivity system has an alluring, but problematic dark side - it provides a way to avoid our actual work while rationalizing to ourselves that we are actually doing something important - you know, developing a system to make ourselves more productive.

In the end I suspect that any system that is reasonably designed - from GTD to Hipster PDA's to actual PDA's - can work for a person if we stay focused on the actual objective of increasing productivity.

It sounds like you have some things that actually do work for you, but you keep abandoning them (or adding to them) for the sexy Moleskine that's smoking French cigarettes in the corner.

Sounds like you may need to give yourself permission to buy the Moleskine notebook just because you like them and leave the productivity work to the things that actually already work for you. You're a writer - surely you can justify carrying around a notebook for ideas without needing a separate excuse.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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