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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.

jstarkweather's picture

My Brother

I'm right there with you my friend. In my case, I'm certain it's because I should have been some sort of process engineer instead of a lawyer, because I'm much more interested in the process of getting things done than in the getting, the things or the doing.

I also have to try each new tool because I hope to find a soulmate, of sorts. Someone who sees the process the same way I do. I try a lot of these tools and think "Man, you are a weirdo. Who would ever need to prioritize their tasks using a letter and a number? Freak..." But then, secretly envy them because I assume their systems work, for them, sick and wrong as it is, and I have yet to find my system. Once I find it, I'll have no excuse for those days when, obligated as I am to bills 8 or nine hours, I still manage to waste two of them on spider solitaire. When you find your shrink, please give me his or her name.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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