A cluttered mind is a sign of...wait I forget.
May 17, 2012 8:44 AM   Subscribe

This is a question about organization and task management. Long and snowflakey, harsh criticism allowed.

This might get long, I'll try to keep it brief.

The backstory is that I have a 17 month old little boy, a full time job, and a side job, and a fiancee who cannot ever miss work ever, and who is dealing with some health issues. So...I'm frazzled. Not stressed, just frazzled and forgetful.

My job:
I travel at least 1 day a week, somtimes as far as 400-600 miles in a day, usually closer to 250. I do a fun conglomeration of social work and construction management. These home visits require me to carry basic tools (tape, level, flashlight, knife, normally), as well as a large camera and paperwork. Sometimes I'm seeing one person, sometimes up to 5. I do have a laptop at my disposal.

One day a week I work from home. This day is only significant because I ALWAYS leave stuff @ the office. I am setup to VNC into my work computer whenever I need to.

The other days I'm in the office are often hectic, answering missed calls and sending program applications and pushing paper. I also do consultations and information requests...and run our IT department, such as it is. Two fullsize filing cabinets, two monitors, one main windows based PC, and a laptop. I've got a craptastic scanner, but it sucks. I do scan every contract/bid/etc as well as maintain the paper copy. I don't scan my applications.

My side job:
Is IT, individuals and non-profits and a few small offices. Requires me to carry normal IT tool-stuff, it all fits neatly into a special bag that's already set up. This part I mostly have under control except for the scheduling part. I'm right on the cusp of applying for a loan to make this my full time, self employed venture, but right now my inability to get to people fast enough worries me.

My normal day:
Get up, get munchkin ready, eat something, leave the house by 7:20. Drop off munchkin @ daycare as fast as possible. Drop fiancee at her office at ~8. (we commute...), get to my own office by about 8:15. Leave my office about 4:15, get her, then drive home. Our son goes to daycare in the town where we live because it's about 1/2 the price of where we work. We absolutely must get him by 6pm. Slightly altered on travel days, but this is the jist.

I've got great bags, plenty of hardware, and a good strong Android running ICS. I make decent use of the phone, but not excellent use. I carry an encrypted tiny flash drive on my keychain for necessary apps/documentation/etc.

Where I fail:
--Scheduling. I'm good at putting things in the calendar, I'm bad at saying "Sometime next week" and then not calling back.

--Individual tasks. I always forget little things...timesheets, expense reports, even miniscule things like "Grab my son's sippy cup when I get out of the car". I've got a location-specific tasks app on my phone, but I don't leave my GPS on so it's kind of coarse...maybe I need to leave my gps on. I HAVE google tasks...I just don't use it as I should.

--Paper. God paper. I generate multiple receipts per week, each must be expensed. I don't usually lose them, but I do often misplace them. How to keep them organized? I was taking pictures of them all for a while with the phone...

--Remembering to take things home/to work/to clients houses/home from any of those places.

--Billing. I have quickbooks, but...well, I suck with it. I know HOW to do everything, I just don't. This is an issue unto itself, wrt billing and who to charge what.

It looks like I'll be able to swing a scansnap this year with "extra" money, and I'm really moving toward encouraging my office to go paperless. Thanks to a HUD grant we HAVE to have an offsite data backup, so this is great. I'm not sure yet entirely how to go about this. I am making use of Lucion "FileCenter" software, and it's OK, but I think I'm underutilizing it.

Complicating factor:
I use personal gmail for myself and my business, syncs to phone. We also use google apps for business at my agency, again syncs to thunderbird and my phone. I maintain separate calendars for each. Not a big deal, but things like Tasks and Talk get muddled.

So...recommend me software, apps, binders, envelopes, life changes, etc., that can help me be better. I am AWESOME at my jobs, I'm just not awesome at managing them. Also and FWIW, I tried GTD's methods for folders and whatnot, but with SO MUCH digital and SO MUCH PAPER, it just doesn't work well for me.
posted by TomMelee to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Seriously... forgetfulness, in the way you describe, is a sign of stress, and your life right now ... appears stressful! Honestly, consider that the pace at which you are living life may not be sustainable indefinitely. Something might have to give somewhere.

However, to answer the specific question ... you know those day planners of old ... the hardcopy notebooks ... get one. Glue it to your hand. Keep a checklist on the front page of the daily things you need to have with you and go through it every time you leave house/work. Include some envelopes attached by the rings of said notebook and put EVERY receipt inside. Schedule an hour once a month to record the receipts/file them. Schedule as in just like an appointment -- and keep it! Anything you need to do ... block out an appointment time for it and adhere to it.

I am fully digital, I hate paper ... but there are time that paper just works better than digital, and in your situation a dayplanner just makes sense.

Another suggestion ... take 20 minutes every morning before your child wakes up, after you are dressed for the day ... pour your beverage of choice, a healthy food item, and sit, relax, perhaps write a page of journal. This may do wonders for your level of daily concentration which will help memory.

And please ... do look at how you are stressing your mind an body, be sure to take care of all your needs, otherwise there could be serious issues down the road a decade or two.
posted by batikrose at 9:05 AM on May 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, that's a good insight. My fear with a paper planner is, again, my forgetfulness---that I'll lose it. Also, as we are an "office on the move", we put all appointments and whatnot in the calendar so other people can plan accordingly to make sure there's always someone in the office. What you say makes sense though, I know know that if it slows me down I'll neglect it.
posted by TomMelee at 9:12 AM on May 17, 2012

(Many) women carry purses because you can put everything you're going to need to bring with you in one place and just need to remember that bag that you carry everywhere. I recommend you get yourself a "purse." It can be a small backpack or carryall, just learn to take it EVERYWHERE you go. Put those things you must not forget in it (or on it, in the case of the sippy cup) and you will be fine.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:27 AM on May 17, 2012

I kinda suggest the opposite of Light Fantastic - go to the store and buy 5 of everything you need. Create 5 bags - one for at home, one for the car, one for the office, and two more "floaters." That way you will almost always have what you need where ever you are.

Yes, this might be expensive. You'll have to weigh the benefits of having too much on you at one time vs. spending money for extra things.

I suggest this book as my favorite "How do I get better" book. The basic gist is: goal setting and frequent feedback.
posted by rebent at 9:42 AM on May 17, 2012

I don't have your needs, so i havent used it, but I've seen this portable scanner advertised and people were really excited about it.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:42 AM on May 17, 2012

multiple receipts per week, each must be expensed. I don't usually lose them, but I do often misplace them. How to keep them organized?...Remembering to take things home/to work/to clients houses/home from any of those places.

Packing lists work well if you have more than two or three items, otherwise they may be overkill.

You say you've got great bags. Do you categorize things into each one? Have one for work-at-home, one for day-on-the road and one for office. Maybe one for personal items and another for the kid. Then whenever you know you need something in anther place, put it in the bag right away. If you need to do something else with it first, put a post-it on the bag with the item name.

I think you need one and only one pouch for expense papers or a heavy duty manila envelope in one of the office bags. All expense related papers go in there as soon as possible.

Buy a second sippy cup for your son to keep at daycare.
posted by soelo at 9:49 AM on May 17, 2012

Make it easier on yourself to get these things done:

- Your common stuff should be everywhere. You should have a tape, knife, level, and flashlight in your office, at home, and in your car. You should also look into techniques that organizations like airlines use to avoid foreign object damage -- have a place for every tool and have things like the tool's silhouette in neon paint so you visually recognize if it's missing. If the items are cheap, like these, just buy more. The stress isn't worth hunting for them. I think I have a cheap harbor freight tape in almost every room in my house.

- Treat some items as everyday carry. I have a 4" folding pocketknife with me always. I'm buying a photon ii led flashlight for my keychain.

- Don't remember moving multiple things from location to location. Remember moving one thing from location to location. Your son's sippy goes in the diaper bag, which goes into the day care, which stays in his locker/cubby/whatever there until someone picks him up. If the sippy cup is full in the car, you have a clean one that goes in the bag, and the filled one gets to stay in your car. The diaper bag always lives by the front door where you remember it every morning. Buy yourself a work bag. If Jack Bauer can carry one, so can you. Laptop, needed papers, etc.

- Your calendar needs to reflect your priorities, not your tasks. Live and die by the calendar. Start by blocking 15 minutes at the end of each day to collect and organize what you need to take with you, and plan what you need to do the next day. Block 15 minutes at the start of each day for reviewing what you need to do and dealing with administrivia like time sheets and expense reports. Block other areas as needed. Do not let people schedule you during this time.

- Portable scanners that store what you scan on SD card until you get back to the PC.

- Portable recorder for things like "follow up next week with X". Process this and your scanner during your 15 mins every morn. That means scheduling the time if they are priorities, or creating tasks if things are more flexible.

- Delegate. It sounds like you're doing a lot; find out who is underutilized at your org and see if someone can spare 15 minutes to do your expense reports for you.

- Billing is your most important priority in any business. Do _not_ mess with the money. Block time for this.
posted by bfranklin at 9:51 AM on May 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all, this is super duper advice. Here's some extra info:
1. We're extremely understaffed, the feds haven't increased our budget since 1986. True story. We just laid people off. This is part of the issue, I'm also a skills trainer now. Gaaaaah. I have started shoving some information requests off onto other people though.

2. The sippy cup thing is really just an example. (And the fiancee is part of the problem and that's a question for another day.) He does have a sippy @ daycare and probably 15 of them at home. It's that when we get home in the evening, one will get left and I'll find it 4 days later when I open the car door and it reeks. Or, like often enough, the one day a week he goes to a friends house for in-home, I'll leave the sippy in the car, or I'll not recognize that the diapers have jostled out of the bag and now he's diaperless, or whatever.

3. I'm a huge EDC nerd. EDC/knife/and flashlight subreddits are my faves. I do handle torch/knife/phone/wallet as EDC and rarely forget any of them. I also developed a "look at your hand" habit for car keys, etc. I also can't stand to have stuff in my pockets though, and I tend to dump everything on my desk (or in my desk) when I get to work, or in my basket at home. I just don't wear cargo pants to make it all EDC.

4. I guess I exaggerated with how great my bags are. Really I have one main bag (a large-ish Timbuk2) and then my backpack (rec gear and/or overflow IT), my mao bag (normal, small IT), and my hulking gym bag for soccer. Honestly the Timbuk2 is a little too big and it frustrates me, I've been looking closer at something like this (or a Maxpedition/Voodoo/Blackhawk, etc.) equivalent.

5. My expensing is weird. I spend off of 4 different funding sources, and every single expense gets recorded independently and requires its own piece of paper for purchase tracking. Really I just need to keep the receipts straight, a small envelope with the circle thingy and the piece of string is really probably all I need.

I'll shut up. Keep them coming!
posted by TomMelee at 10:08 AM on May 17, 2012

re: bags. I swear by my Fossile Messenger Bag. Fits a laptop, charger, and headset with another compartment for papers, and a couple zipper pockets for smaller electronic gizmos.

I understand the pockets thing. Carabiner this stuff to your bag and don't go anywhere without your bag.

Basically, keep looking for ways to get everything you're transporting down in to one or two items you move from place to place. My work bag and my son's diaper bag come with me every morning. Zipper that diaper bag to avoid the jostle issue. Buy 3 sippies, diapers, and wipes, and send them to your friend's home with a caddy to leave there.
posted by bfranklin at 10:25 AM on May 17, 2012

Fossil, even.
posted by bfranklin at 10:26 AM on May 17, 2012

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