Wait, sorry, what?
November 13, 2009 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Call it procrastination, call it forgetfulness, call it disorganization, call it laziness-- whatever it is, it's affecting my work life, and I want it to stop.

I forget things. Lots of things. All the time. Sometimes it just completely slips my mind, sometimes I decide to do it later and it gets lost in the mists, sometimes just the thought of doing it makes me cranky and I want it to go away.

I have tried to write things down on a list, which helps for a while, but I invariably lose the list. I am unable to keep my office clean or organized, which contributes to list-losing, but the piles of stuff make me feel guilty, and I am disinclined (almost afraid) to go through them. When I try, I am seized with the urgent desire to do almost anything else.

How can I stop this? It's almost like I don't want to remember things. I try to change, then I forget the changes I've made, and the problem is as large as ever.

It's starting to come to a head, as I've failed to act on assignments from my boss due to completely forgetting about them. I'm not in danger of being fired (yet), but I want to do the best job I can, and this fuzzy-headedness is not making it easy.
posted by cereselle to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
The thing that will both protect your job and hopefully provide some answers is to talk to your doctor first, rule out any thyroid-related brain fog or anything like that, and move on to an attention-deficit disorder assessment from a professional. Good luck, whatever you find out.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:00 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm finding Mark Forster's Autofocus system has been helpful. There's a PDF which you can scroll through that demonstrates the process.

I'm keeping two separate lists in one book that's tucked in a portfolio I always take to & from work.

On list (right-hand pages) is for work.
The other list (left-hand page) is for home.

I should just have flipped the book over, honestly, but I'm committed for now.
posted by Decimask at 3:03 PM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Seconding fairytale. Once you've taken that step, and you learn the root cause, then you can work on strategies.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:04 PM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: Is there a way to avoid losing your list? As in, if you work near a computer, you can compose the list there, or on your phone maybe. Then send this information to yourself at home, and go back and forth like this. You could also create a flagging system to prioritize the items. If you must use paper, transfer the info to an electronic system on a schedule, like A) as soon as you think of it, B) as soon as you get to work, C) lunchtime, D) before leaving work, E) when you get home, F) bedtime.
Address anything that should go on the list right away. Discipline yourself and it will become a habit.
Good luck.
posted by bebrave! at 3:09 PM on November 13, 2009

posted by Sys Rq at 3:35 PM on November 13, 2009

Getting Things Done by David Allen.
posted by fantasticninety at 3:45 PM on November 13, 2009

Seconding GTD, and maybe get OmniFocus and synch it with your iPhone or Touch. That should pretty much take care of it. Good luck.
posted by VikingSword at 3:47 PM on November 13, 2009

Whiteboard, cork board, daybook-tickler, Outlook (to schedule & use the unfiled emails as a to do list - send yourself an email if necessary with tasks in it), Business Plan (for noting long term tasks), desktop background task list, one only notebook (because otherwise you'll write the lists in the wrong spot). And when you forget or stop using your system, like a diet or exercise program, call it a bad day and go back to it, again and again. The most effective and easiest to use parts of your system will stick.
posted by b33j at 4:06 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get a pocket-sized Moleskin and carry it all the time.

Every evening before bed, write the next day's date on a page, and make a list of things you have to do the next day, putting little checkboxes next to them. When you wake up, look at your list, and check things off as you do them. When new things come up, add another line with a checkbox next to it.

If you can't finish everything, on the list, don't sweat it. Just add it to the checklist for the next day.

Always carry your little Moleskin. Always. Keep it in your back pocket during they day, and on your nightstand when you go to bed. Put a colored rubber band around it if you like.

This works for me.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:18 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thirding GTD. This is basically the stereotype of the 'pre GTD' follower, and GTD is a systematic method of dealing with it. There are resources all over the internet, you can start with the official website or perhaps with the original book.
posted by jacalata at 4:28 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you keep your list in Evernote you never have to worry about losing it ... you can access it from any computer, anywhere, or from your iphone if you have one. Evernote works well as a sort of memory-extension, and is also very helpful for organizing thoughts and projects. It's compatible with the GTD method everyone here is talking about. Oh, and it's free.
posted by dacoit at 4:45 PM on November 13, 2009

Get a pocket-sized Moleskin and carry it all the time.

Yeah... I'd lose the book. *Sigh* But I seriously doubt it's laziness— I work really pretty hard, and love my work.

The thing that works for me is this: when I think of "it," I do "it" RIGHT AWAY.

Even if you're doing something else, don't even pause. Stop, do "it," and get back to whatever you were doing before. Bill came in the mail? Pay it RIGHT NOW. Email from client? Respond RIGHT NOW.
posted by functionequalsform at 4:54 PM on November 13, 2009

Someone mentioned it before, but when I worked in an office - Outlook was my best friend. A computer based "to do" list with reminders is a wonderful invention for those of use with memory problems.
posted by patheral at 5:13 PM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: I'm actually getting started on GTD myself, and the only thing I'd add is that I doubt your problem is finding a kind of list you won't loose or forget about. It's bigger/deeper than that, it envolves motivation, thinking patterns, a much larger skill set than just "how to keep the list on me and not forget to check it". So yeah, a health check up and GDT. Good luck!
posted by Opal at 6:42 PM on November 13, 2009

Just realized my answer sounds a bit too pessimistic. Not how I meant it, sorry. What I do mean is that it sounds like this is a pattern of behavior that might spill onto other areas of your life in ways you may not even realize yet, and that would look like lazyness or lack of responsibility. You talk about not wanting to deal with stuff, and that's bigger than just a memory issue, even if there is one. So finding the best note-keeping software may not be enough, and some kind of system like GTD might be in order.
posted by Opal at 6:57 PM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: IMHO, you are not a sane person if you don't sort of hate or at least not care about all the little things you have to get done to accomplish your broader goals. Anyway, I'm like that, and I have two ways to deal with it:

1. Anything that I can do whenever, is not across town, early in the morning, in another city: put it in my cell phone's calendar, with an alarm. Put it in the second I learn I have to do it; then I can forget about it.

2. Anything that needs a fair warning -- that is across town, that is early in the morning, that is in another city: put it in my google calendar and have google email me reminders 3 days in advance, 2 days, 1 day, 6 hours, 3 hours, AND 2 hours. Put it in the second I learn I have to do it. If necessary, if I'm out, put a reminder in my phone to put it in my gmail when I get home.

This works very well for me, and it also allows me to never worry about appointments/obligations ever.
posted by skwt at 8:12 PM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: You probably have ADHD (ADD). Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder of the inattentive type - forgetful, procrastinate, never finish anything, easily distracted, high intelligence, not necessarlily hyperactive, just difficulty focusing on any one thing for long. Yes, adults have it. Read Driven to Distraction. A lot of things mentioned above probably help (lists, etc.) but understanding all of the symptoms of this problem really helps (the book also contains coping solutions in detail.) When I read it, so many lightbulbs went on - it explained so much about how I operate. You are not lazy. Really - do something about this (easy to procastinate when you have it though) because it can really ruin your life.
posted by j810c at 9:14 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A few words in your post sounded a chord with me, so I'll suggest another possibility: Sleep apnea. I was very unfocused at work for a long time; trying like heck to implement new systems to keep myself organized and failing. Even when I found a system I liked, such as GTD, I would find my progress sabotaged by incompletely implementing it, or forgetting needed periodic processes.

Then I finally had a sleep study done and found I was having dozens of breathing disruptions per hour in my sleep, and as a result was getting way less oxygen than I needed to regenerate at night. It was revelatory. Treatment is another struggle in itself, but just knowing the source of my fogginess and seeming inability to get organized in spite of my efforts did wonders for my self-confidence.

Another thing that happens when you're messing up (regardless of the cause) is that there's added stress (and possibly negative self-talk) associated with the act of organizing. This makes for even less clear thinking. Be aware of these feelings, acknowledge them, and also realize these past problems do not have to dictate your future performance.

So do consider getting a sleep study done, especially if you have fatigue during the day and/or snore excessively. And regardless, don't beat yourself up about the difficulties you encounter; at least you're putting forth the effort.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:21 PM on November 13, 2009

I am exactly like you! This post really means something to me.

I've had good luck with bupropion, found in Zyban and Wellbutrin. I took Zyban to stop smoking and all of a sudden I was operating like what seemed a normal person.

I've also had good luck with general self-help stuff like cognitive behavioral therapy and doing a 12-Step program. The work on unrelated but distracting issues helped to calm the overall bustle in my brain and soul. Lift yourself from unrelated issues and you will lift from the distractedness also.

To me, an especially important concept from the 12-Step stuff was the idea of powerlessness vs. lack of control. I learned that I am powerless over a great deal of the universe, and I realized that I could actually take control over myself. The letting go of the universe and shifting of focus to what actual power I have helped a bit in saving what coherent focus I have for the tasks that need it.

Technically, I can also recommend Getting Things Done. I also use a phone with an organizer + Google Calendar and TODO lists in email. The iPhone is pretty good for organizing, not least because it can easily connect to computer-based large-scale organization programs and webpages.

Also seconding everything else in the thread.

Also, a thought that helped me really much was "Memento Mori". Nowadays, I optimize for time, not optimality. When I was thinking in terms of task optimality, everything ballooned up too big for me to contain it all in my head. When optimizing for time, I look differently at things, they're smaller and subtasks are cleared before I forget them.
posted by krilli at 3:14 AM on November 14, 2009

Thought of something important, so I'll recomment.

One humorous-seeming but important trick is this: If I am at someone's house, and they give me something that I must take home, like if they lend me a book or return an object that I have loaned, I will forget it. But if I take the object and put it ON TOP OF MY SHOES, I can't forget it when I leave.

Place life "on top of your shoes". You will always return to them, and you will always remember. Find other choke points in your life and make a system of attaching reminders and task manifestations to them.
posted by krilli at 3:17 AM on November 14, 2009

This might sound silly, but the only way I'm able to remember anything at work (including stuff I just happen to do at work, like paying bills online) is having one of those huge desk calendars under my keyboard. That way, everything I have to do is more-or-less in my face at all times.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:09 AM on November 14, 2009

Best answer: Ah! A problem that can be solved with duct tape!

It sounds like the lists work for you, until things get put on top of them. You need to attach the list to a vertical surface. A border around your computer monitor, desk hutch, or under the light switch might work. Pick a surface that you won't end up attaching other things onto.

You can use a different type of tape, or have a clip attached somewhere to hold your list. Don't try post-its, they will fall off and get lost.
posted by yohko at 11:04 AM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to clamor with the GTD crowd. What GTD does is to get all the stuff you need to do out of your head and into small actions. If you're working in an office that uses Outlook, I highly recommend the GTD plugin. It has saved my butt on numerous occasions. Basically, it stops you from being overwhelmed by forcing you to assign actions to your email (primary business communication): file it, delete it, do it now, assign an action/time to do it. You will feel less overwhelmed because you'll have a plan instead of a bunch of stuff that needs to be done. What I especially like about GTD and the plugin is that I don't have to try to remember everything that I need to do: it's all written down/scheduled for me.

On a side note, I'm a bit disturbed by all of the assumptions that you must have something medically wrong with you. Your description (Sometimes it just completely slips my mind, sometimes I decide to do it later and it gets lost in the mists, sometimes just the thought of doing it makes me cranky and I want it to go away.) reads to me a procrastinator who is overwhelmed.

Good luck! I am a procrastinator by nature so I understand how you feel.
posted by sfkiddo at 10:01 PM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: These are fantastic answers. Thank you all!

I recently found out that I do occasionally stop breathing in my sleep. I know I snore. The more I read about ADHD, the more it sounds like me. I am already on Wellbutrin.

I had made an account on Remember the Milk, and I found out there was an iphone app for that, so I got it. I am very good about keeping hold of my phone, so the app should be very useful.

The vertical list is another great idea. I'm also investigating some of these books, and I'll check with my doctor on trying out meds.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by cereselle at 11:35 AM on November 16, 2009

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