How do I become an organized, routine-driven, goal-achieving adult?
August 7, 2015 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Were you an unfocused, chronically late, procrastinating, disorganized adult who become someone with diligence, persistence, and the ability to set and succeed at long-term goals? I can form schedules, organizational systems, and have lofty long-term goals, but fail at implementation. I am the kid who eats the marshmallow before the researcher leaves the room. Have you been me, and become someone else? What were your strategies for change?

I can construct organizational systems. I can make schedules. Once I actually start working on something, everyone around me is very impressed with my work ethic--for one day, with that single task. If I am presented with a situation where I need to work on multiple unrelated things in a day, or chunks of a project over a long period of time, or encounter any situation where my single-minded focus is disrupted then it all goes to pot. This is even worse if the task does not provide an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, like regularly doing quick wipe-downs of the bathroom instead of letting it progress to a disgusting mess and doing one massive clean when I realize I'm having a guest over the next day. I make a daily plan, and the first task will cut into the time period allotted to the second, the second will distract me before I even get the first started, or a short five minute break becomes three hours.

This applies to everything. Writing papers, getting to places on time, keeping the apartment clean, setting career goals, planning dinner parties or vacations or DIY projects. This has resulted in a life with no routine whatsoever that feels ruled by procrastination, panic, sleep deprivation, and the feeling that everything I've done could've been better if I got my shit together.

I'm diagnosed with ADHD and major depressive disorder, am medicated for both, and the number of therapists I've seen requires fingers and toes. Barring new pharmaceutical miracles, where I am chemically is about the best I can be.

This is not imposter syndrome. Please believe me when I state I am demonstrably less organized, less productive, and less together than my friends and peers. It's not over-commitment, if anything I have less daily responsibilities and ongoing projects than most people I know.

I don't care if I'm the best at what I do, I want to feel I did the best I can do. I want to feel confident that I can set long-term goals and keep them, and that I'm keeping ahead of my responsibilities. I want to set a time to finish a task, and actually have that time be a realistic allotment and finish the task in that time. I want a boring life of routine, absent of daily disasters and crises. I want to die feeling like my life was rich with love and meaning. A life that cannot be built when one has the attention span and diligence of a fruit fly.

Sorry for the length of this. I'm trying to communicate the psychiatric aspects of this are covered, and I believe my expectations are realistic.

So Metafilter: were you me? Were you able to change? What were your strategies, the more specific the better? Were there exercises you did that helped build your attention span diligence/ Things you practiced? What was your plan? Or do you at least know of someone like me who changed so I can believe this kind of change is possible? At this point I am ready to hire someone to check in on me every 12 hours to make sure I'm keeping it together until I can build good habits.
posted by Hey nonny nonny mouse to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 219 users marked this as a favorite
Consistent sleep has been the #1 thing in my life that affects everything I do. If I'm able to get 8-9 hours a night, every night, going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every day, I can accomplish anything. If I slip from that for a few nights, I'm a wreck and back to my disorganized, scatterbrained self.

In addition, a lot of exercise and taking breaks from electronics have also been really helpful. But the biggest is sleep. It's also the hardest to catch up on, but it's worth it, IMO.
posted by sutel at 12:50 PM on August 7, 2015 [32 favorites]

This feels like a cheating sort of answer, but for me, having a good steady partner has done wonders for life habits such as consistent bedtimes and regular house cleaning.
posted by the_blizz at 12:56 PM on August 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

I agree that consistent sleep is a big one. I thought I was a night owl for most of my life until circumstances required that I start being up every day at 5 AM. As it turns out, although it's still easy for me to stay up late, I accomplish much less when I stay up late vs. when I wake up early.

For me it is mainly about being mindful of when I'm being efficient and effective, when I am not, and being adaptable. If I notice that I am messing around on the internet instead of doing the job I intended to, I don't just say "Hey, telegraph! Get to work now! In two minutes... get to work." That doesn't work, as we all know. Instead, I do something that instantly changes my situation that isn't getting to work.

A big one for me is a change of setting (I'm a student, so most of my work is portable). If I'm sitting in the library not doing what I'm supposed to -- even if I'm at the best study carrel in the entire world where I usually am my most brilliantly efficient -- I get up and leave and go somewhere else. Other options include standing instead of sitting (or vice versa), putting on/turning off/changing music, or switching my focus to another high priority workstream. Maybe there are two things that I really need to do today, and I just can't get started on one of them; fine! Do the other one! The point is that some imperceptible aspect of the situation is making my work feel impossible, so instead of brute forcing it, I change things until I feel ready to work.

I am not an effortlessly organized, routine-driven, goal achieving adult, but this is how I've been able to effortfully become one.
posted by telegraph at 1:04 PM on August 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

If you're Christian or can easily ignore churchy stuff, Flylady might help. I'm not churchy and her system helped me quite a bit, I just ignored the religious stuff.

If you're not Christian and don't want to hear the churchy stuff, Unfuck Your Habitat works as well. You can apply the stuff they talk about to anything.

Both concept use the Pomodoro Technique as a central concept, and many people find that the Pomodoro technique works wonders for them. It has helped me so much! You just have to focus in short bursts. I can't easily do the long bursts so knowing I ONLY have to do 15 minutes (or whatever) is so much easier. And, you'll find that if you're really focusing for those 15 minutes, you can get a metric ton of %whatever done during that time.

I also use specific music to focus myself. When I'm coding/programming, I have a very specific Pandora station that I use during that time. It helps tell my brain, "OK time to focus now". It has become routine so my brain starts zeroing in as soon as the station starts up. Basically, I have Pavolvian trained my brain that Pandora Station = programming focus, but that takes time (about a month for me) and consistency.
posted by RogueTech at 1:09 PM on August 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

This is something I struggle with a lot, and at this point in my life I'm pretty sure there won't be any once-and-for-all solution — I'm going to be struggling with it forever.

Things that seem to help some:
  1. Remembering that I'm playing a long game. This stuff is learnable — but it takes a long-ass time to learn, and those of us with depression and ADD tend to be behind. I may be 50 before I can keep house like an average 25-year-old, but I'll get there.
  2. The "just do one" trick. "Okay, I'm just going to wash one dish." "Okay, I'm just going to make one phone call."
  3. Keeping my expectations low and building lots of slack into the schedule. I have a problem where once I see myself as "behind," I throw my hands up in the air and quit trying. If my intention is to be out of bed and cleaning by 9 AM, and at 10 I'm still in bed, I panic and give up. If I can genuinely convince myself that an okay plan is to to be out of bed and eating breakfast by noon, and then clean a little after that, I'm more likely to do it. (This one is tricky, though, because I'm a judgmental bitch and sometimes telling myself that I'll eat breakfast at noon sets off a whole lot of self-judgment.)
  4. Trying to accept that some stuff is just going to be effortful. this reddit post is kind of over the top but it makes some good points. You don't actually have to be motivated to clean the kitchen, or feel like doing it. You just have to do it, even if you bitch the whole time and hate it.
  5. Being open to vulnerability. (This one's really hard.) Caring how something turns out makes you vulnerable. Wanting to be good at something makes you vulnerable. Enjoying a clean, well-maintained home makes you vulnerable, because it means you're susceptible to disappointment if something breaks or falls apart. Sometimes it helps to stop trying to do the macho I'M JUST GONNA PUT MY HEAD DOWN AND POWER THROUGH THIS thing and kind of hang out with the vulnerability.

posted by nebulawindphone at 1:11 PM on August 7, 2015 [38 favorites]

Echoing what telegraph said: I often have two equally important things that need doing. If I just can't focus on A today, it's quite likely I can move the needle on B, so I'll switch over. It does mean that I have 3-4 projects going at both work and home, but if I rotate through them, they all get done.

More than anything, accepting this is who I am and working with myself, and how I am, instead of trying to make myself be just like other people, has helped immensely. Often other people don't care HOW you got something done, just that it is done. So if you had to rotate between 5 different tasks to get your brain to work with you, and had to use Pomodoro to do it, but you got them done on time, people focus on the "got it done on time" not on how you had to switch from task to task til you got them done.
posted by RogueTech at 1:13 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I read something recently to the effect of: Procrastinators think that they can wait till they are in the right "mood" to do a task. But we have to accept we may NEVER be in the mood to do certain necessary tasks.

With regards to housework, it is something we all struggle with and I've found that unFuck your habitat has really helped me change the goal from "get it clean" to "accomplish a specific time of cleaning, regardless of outcome"

Another helpful mindhack is to be kind to yourself. You have valid reasons for finding somethings challenging, and you are doing the best you can. Before I focused on that, a shame spiral would happen and prevent me from accomplishing much.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:15 PM on August 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

I don't know if I was you, but I was a lot like you! A key difference is that once I find something that interests me, I can obsess over it like none other. So, the thing that's helped me (and I am in the process of changing, not totally there, but getting there!) is finding one thing (or maybe up to a few related things) and getting myself to obsess over them long enough that they become habit.

For example, I wasn't liking the way I was cleaning & maintaining my living space. I wasn't as slovenly as I once was, but I wasn't as neat, clean, & organized as I'd like to be. And I'd tried the flylady system but it was never just right for me and I kept trying and failing (and then feeling guilty about the trying & failing) to make my own system similar to hers. I was trying to do it all at once perfect out the gate. So! Knowing that I can obsess over things like essential oils, I started making my own cleaners which I could scent/enhance with essential oils. I then assigned one room per day and made my own cleaners scented as I like them. And somehow, miraculously, my place is now nearly spotless. I use Things and schedule recurring tasks when I stumble upon them ("oh! I watered the plants today and that's not in the system yet, I should probably check them every 4 days" "Hmm, the windows need cleaned outside... probably an every 6 month kind of job"). And now I have my own customized flylady program that completely works for me. 2 years of trying to make it come together and it finally did because I stopped obsessing over my ability to make a schedule I could stick to for more than a week and obsessed, instead, over the cleaners. Now, every day, I have a room to tidy and a handful of other household tasks that might take 15-20 minutes to complete. Totally doable.

I can also obsess over music. So to help me turn off screens and go to bed at a reasonable time, I started creating the ultimate bed time playlists. Playing that also got me into getting my going to bed routine in shape. Then it led to a start the day playlist and, similarly, an improvement in my morning routine.

Good luck! Something will click, but sometimes we have to find ways to trick it into happening.
posted by imbri at 1:23 PM on August 7, 2015 [11 favorites]

I make a daily plan, and the first task will cut into the time period allotted to the second, the second will distract me before I even get the first started, or a short five minute break becomes three hours.

And then you throw up your hands and go, "I'm worthless, this is never going to work, nothing will ever change." So, yeah. Know the feeling. I wrote down the list of the 15 most common cognitive distortions and I force myself to read it (or at least look at it) every day. Then I started noticing them action. "This sucks, I'll never be able to heyyyyy..."

The other thing about making daily plans is...
"I make a daily plan, and the first task will cut into the time period allotted to the second..."

Stop right there. The next time you make plans? Plan one task, not two. Make a time estimate. If you fit that task into the time estimate, hooray. If not? Well, now you know how long it takes you to do that thing. That time is now your "par." If you can get consistently under par, then you know you can start scheduling task two to occur after task one consistently.

The other thing that helped me is setting a rule that "There is No Period of Time Smaller Than 15 Minutes."

If you think something will take 5 minutes ... schedule 15.
If you think something will take 20 minutes ... schedule 30 (because that's 15 + 15).

Everyone forgets all the little things that go into time estimates. "It takes 5 minutes to drive to the store," frames the entire task as five minutes, when "drive to the store" actually includes lots of little things that are not literally driving to the store. So, you're running late and you look up and go, "WTF? This was only supposed to take five minutes. I can't hold myself to any plans!"

When in reality, you neglected to account for the time spent putting on your shoes, checking your phone, oh look a text message, better answer it, getting in the car, finding parking, walking in, grabbing a cart, oh look at the apples, etc., and you haven't even started shopping yet, because you're still doing all the other things that are all part of the greater task of "driving to the store."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:28 PM on August 7, 2015 [38 favorites]

I got diagnosed with ADHD and went on medication. It's not a perfect fix, but I forgive myself more now than I used to. Pomodoro timers have been really helpful. I also have dump drawers for similarly-themed items: the "makeup and personal care items" drawer is not organized, but I know when I'm looking for a personal care item which drawer to dig through.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:30 PM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hey, I just got done with a set of classes specifically about how to help those of us adults with ADHD be, like, functional.

I'm still working on it myself — DID YOU KNOW I COULD BE RIDING BIKES RIGHT NOW? — but I'm at least seeing a bit of progress from doing some basic stuff.

1) I'm timing how long I actually spend on things.
2) I'm scheduling as much as I can in advance and then just going with the flow of the schedule.
3) I'm trying really goddamned hard not to catastrophize or get stuck in negative patterns.
4) I'm doing mindfulness exercises.
5) I'm working really hard on getting enough sleep, even though I don't enjoy it as much as reading the web/playing games/watching tv/screwing around with whatever projects I have going.
6) I've been putting everything into workflowy (if you want extra tasks allowed, I can send you a referral link — my email's in my profile).
7) I am literally feeding myself small bonbons every time I get a task accomplished because even though my conscious brain rejects a lot of the trainability aspects as speculative bullshit, it's seeming to help associating getting things done with an instant reward, and I'm finding that simpler rewards (like a treat) work better than things like internet comment time or games, because those have the tendency to be rewarding through inherent challenge, which is not as clear a reward signal as just a simple sugar lump for the horse brain.
8) I'm trying to schedule things that are easy or that I like after things that are hard, so I can keep up momentum.
9) I'm talking more about the trouble that I'm having with this shit with other people who have trouble with this shit — god, just going to the class was so weird because there were so many times that people were describing behavior patterns that they struggle with and it was like they were talking from the inside of my brain.

If there's anything else I can do, let me know.
posted by klangklangston at 1:36 PM on August 7, 2015 [23 favorites]

I want a boring life of routine, absent of daily disasters and crises. I want to die feeling like my life was rich with love and meaning. A life that cannot be built when one has the attention span and diligence of a fruit fly.

I know exactly what you mean. I have been improving in this area a lot lately and what I would say is the most important factor towards improving is making things easy for yourself. I also know someone who always seems to be in a panic about everything and my observation is that she has no concept of making things easy for herself. This is because the idea that things should and can be easy and manageable for the sake of your own mental health isn't a thing anyone ever told her.

One example - I have one handbag that has all my stuff in it (and not a lot of stuff either - only stuff I have a demonstrated need to carry around). Sometimes it has more stuff than I need for a given situation, but I'm okay with that because the tradeoff is too much to deal with. My acquaintance never has less than 3 bags on her person at any given time and is always shuffling things between them and rooting around in them and dropping them and whatnot. Why? Make it easy for yourself.

Another example - laundry. I used to be totally overwhelmed by laundry for a lot of different reasons. One reason: I was trying to do my hubby's laundry in addition to my own. Nope, too much work, can't do, he has to help me. Another reason: it was too hard to use the shitty cheap-o hampers we bought to keep things sorted, so the clothes were just landing on the floor, stressing me out and resulting in a lot of work to gather them up and re-sort. Nope, can't deal with this, need to just figure out what hampers I need and pay the cost. Another reason: we were living in a tiny apartment in a 3rd-floor walkup in a large building with 3 communal washers that were always broken. Nope, can't deal with this, need to make sure our next place has a better laundry situation, so we did, and now we have a sane laundry situation.

Another example - hair. I have a lot of AskMe questions about my hair. My hair wants to be big and wild and out of control. I want my hair to be small, smooth, and contained, but I was having a really hard time making that happen. Someone suggested taking the time to make dealing with my hair a nice experience instead of a frustrating chore. So I took my desk and re-arranged it so I can do my hair at it instead of standing in front of the mirror. It's working out really good so far, and my mornings are a lot more pleasant.

I know this sounds like "How to get out of debt: First, have a million dollars." They don't all have to be expensive fixes. But the point to say that systems and checklists and stuff only help as long as they're making your life easier in the long term. Just take one thing that you struggle with and think about the things about it that you find difficult, and what you need to do to make them easy. Then work towards the goal of making that happen.
posted by bleep at 1:56 PM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you have the funds, DO hire someone to help with this. Weekly cleaning lady, professional organizer, PA (outsourced from India or elsewhere over the internet) to check in on you, auto pay on bills or a professional accountant, etc etc etc.

All of the HARDEST THINGS TO FOCUS ON just OUTSOURCE THEM. And then take your newly freed mental energies and go find something that you can a) focus on enjoyably and b) make money from to pay for all the outsourcing.

(note: I realize pawning off 100% of the things is financially impracticable. But choose the worst ones, or pawn off selectively, for example, accountant once a year so taxes aren't a thing you have to deal with, or cleaning lady when the bathroom is just not a thing you can clean right now).
posted by slateyness at 2:40 PM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

What has been absolutely amazing for me--also ADHD, also depressive, also disorganized--has been stumbling into a career in which my days follow this pattern:

Go to #place, do #thing all day. Repeat.

It turns out that multitasking was my enemy and I never fully appreciated it. But a neverending pile of mildly interesting ever-replenishing Similar Things to Do with a Self-Evident Order? Holy shit, that is the best.

TL;DR: there is a sort of oft-repeated truism for ADHD people that we crave variety. I was stunned to find that it isn't always so.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:04 PM on August 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

The single thing that works for me is training myself to have a consistent bedtime and getting up time, and that's HARD. But you add details as you go along. so that the first task really does take its allocated time and not cut into the second.

The point is to do the smallest thing at any given time that you can reasonably do, build it into a habit, and go from there.

if you have a smartphone download Set yourself a task to go to bed at a given time and get up 7 hours later. You are going to want to repeat this task over a long period - say 128 days - but the subcomponents of the task will build up 7 days at a time.

Say your bedtime is midnight and your getting up time is 7 am. Download SleepCycle and set it for 1 hour before you have to get up. Set your phone alarms with the Alarm sound. One for 6:45, one for 6:55, one for 6:56, one for 6:57, and one for 7:00. Set an additional alarm, labelled YOU'RE LATE, and assign it The Eye of the Tiger. When your Sleep Cycle alarm goes off, take your ADHD meds, put the container on the floor so you know you've taken them, and go back to sleep. When you hear The Eye of the Tiger, you know your lazy ass should really be up already.

Also set a 10-minute and then a 5-minute alarm before your lights-out time.

Now for the first 7 days, you can get away with going to bed at midnight-ish and getting up at 7-ish. You can start by being fuzzy. Try doing that for 7 days and not breaking the chain. For those 7 days you have ONE JOB and that is to go to bed on time and get up on time. (Aside from, like, not getting fired, not running people over in your car, not spending your entire personal fortune on shoes, not getting arrested etc.)

For the next 7 days, your ONE JOB is still to go to bed on time and get up on time, but now instead of being fuzzy you have to be strict.

Think about the first thing you have to do when you get up. For me, it's this sequence: get up, pee, put contact lenses in, weigh self, put bed away (I sleep on the floor), take meds, triage email. I don't want this to take more than 15 minutes altogether. So I set a timer for 15 minutes.

For the third set of 7 days, my goal is to complete the getting-up process within 15 minutes. that is my ONE JOB for those 7 days since it is a foregone conclusion that I'll be up by 7:01 at the latest, so I know all this will be done by 7:16.

After I get up, what do I need to do next? feed the cats and brush my teeth, and in order to clear a path to do these things I need to clean the kitchen (other family members are of the "just dump objects wherever they fall, don't wipe up what you spill" school of thought so the sink is always full of yesterday's rancid cat food and there are dirty dishes and puddles everywhere). If I'm going to feed the cats then now is also a good time to change their litter, if it needs changing (every 3rd day). I need to allow about half an hour for all this, but no more.

So my ONE JOB for the fourth set of 7 days is to have my teeth brushed and the cats fed by 7:45. These seem like simple 2- to 5-minute tasks but they are really complex processes lasting much longer. there is no point kidding myself about how long these things take.

but now that I'm up, with teeth brushed and cats fed, I can finally work out. my ONE JOB for the fifth set of 7 days is to go directly from the previous task into my workout, with no dawdling. And for the sixth set of 7 days it will be to actually have that workout completed with reasonable intensity and by a certain time. after that I'll have a specific length of time allocated to getting dressed. and so on.

And that's the simple process of getting up and going to work. Imagine if I had kids.

My point is that simple actions are complex and they take more time than "a person" is reasonably expected to spend on them. i once had someone scold me for not packing my lunch daily: "it takes two minutes!" Yes, but it takes at least 20 minutes (for me) to clean and declutter the kitchen to the point where packing a lunch is possible. Also, others in the household like to eat bread when it's up to a week old, but I gag on it, so I have to incorporate bread-buying into my routine if I want to do this and there are no stores near my office and it just takes a little bit of thought to incorporate bread-buying into my daily routine, if I want the bread. So I just don't pack my lunch.

If you break the chain, YOU DON'T GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE 128 DAYS. you only go back to the beginning of the latest 7-day period. so you are constantly making progress. if you are consistenly failing at a particular point, it's something about that particular process that's screwing you up and you need to redesign the process.
posted by tel3path at 3:53 PM on August 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

You are me, about five years ago. I have ADHD and at my core, I'm insanely goal-oriented and huge on self-improvement, which has made having ADHD all the more painful - but not impossible to overcome! It has been a long journey and I still struggle. But I've accomplished a lot in those five years and am very proud of myself, because I did the best that I could do. Like you, that's what matters to me. So you are already on the right path and of the right mindset. Keep that up. Do not fall prey to the desire (or pressure) to compare oneself to others and others' achievements.

This comment I posted on a similar question may be helpful. Also this comment. As you can see, I found a lot of wisdom in the writings of James Clear, and Zen Habits' Leo Babauta. Do consider signing up for their weekly emails!

Nthing pomodoro technique. Have a bunch of different small or moderate-size things you want to work on, or just one big thing? You can practice guitar for 15 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. Then lift weights for 15 minutes, and take a 5 minute break. Then practice drawing for 15 minutes, take a 5 minute break. Or you can just work on writing a story for 10, 15 or 20 minute intervals with 5 minute breaks to get up and do whatever in between.

If you're ever looking for an accountability partner or just someone to exchange thoughts or questions with, please feel free to MeMail me.
posted by nightrecordings at 4:31 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'll just second the "routine" point. I haven't managed a consistent bedtime, but I do leave work at the same time every day now. And I try to have the kitchen clean before I leave for work (either by doing the dishes the night before or on my way out the door). Having deadlines for things, be it work or be it chores, is very helpful.

Also, I quit coffee, and that has helped me be a lot more grounded.
posted by salvia at 4:42 PM on August 7, 2015

Nah. I'n pretty much a company cleaner. And that's okay. When company is coming, I clean like a royal bitch. Every surface gets wiped down, I scrub the hell out of the shower. I even wipe around the outside of the toilet bowl, you know, all of those bits that never get wiped down on a regular basis.

The rest of the time, I don't worry about it. Seriously. I vacuum up the dust bunnies when they get to be larger than 3 inches. I dust the surfaces when I can run my finger on them and say, "You can't STAND the TRUTH!"

I do laundry once a week. I wash sheets and towels when I feel they need to be washed. I mop when I fucking feel like it, tho' I do sweep every other day. I do dishes every day, I clean the counter and stove top every day.

If you want to clean it, you have to break it down: Toilet, 5 minutes. Sink, 3 minutes. All in all, it takes longer to think about cleaning than the actual act of cleaning. My dishes took 10 minutes this morning.

So I guess I'd say, time it. No one makes me clean, and I freaking hate it, I have been cleaning my entire life and thinking about cleaning and I really fucking hate it, but I do like the results. I have just got it down to timing. Do I want to spend more time THINKING about cleaning, or do I want to spend relative LESS time DOING it?
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:15 PM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Try the Chrome "One Tab" extension, and read both parts of this piece on procrastination.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:18 PM on August 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

The other thing that helped me is setting a rule that "There is No Period of Time Smaller Than 15 Minutes."

In this vein, I am actually putting showering, eating, driving to campus, etc on my calendar this fall. I am hoping that that will remind me that these things take time when I'm like "Why didn't I get All The Things done before I left for work?"
posted by joycehealy at 5:47 PM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is something I struggle with a great deal. I would eat the marshmallow right away every time (I'm pretty sure I've actually had that exact same guilty thought before after reading that study. "Ugh, I'm such a marshmallow kid."), and I'm not sure that that's changed. But I have made concrete improvements, and this is what has personally helped me.

First of all, quite a bit of my progress has been improving my mental health (chronic depression and GAD), and lot of the steps I've taken that have helped tremendously have already been mentioned above.

But equally important for me was finding the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. I can look back to the exact moment when my house went from generally messy to generally tidy, starting to wake up earlier than 1 pm, always having clean laundry, having much better follow through on projects big and small, having more accountability, and (yay!) starting to actually do more things I really like to do. The trick is that they go from insurmountable tasks that are stressing me out, to that thing I did ten minutes ago and now I'm on Metafilter.

The author works from the viewpoint that people tend to have a lot of good intentions and a lot of goals, but our brains are kind of dumb at prioritizing them and understanding what exactly we should be doing at any given time and then breaking them down into physical actions that we will actually do.

So he has a system for processing every last goal, from running an Iron Man marathon to picking up some kitty litter. The "system" is something you can do in your head, typically in about five seconds. It will take every thought in your head and assign it a spot where you can look at it later. The result is that you don't have a ton of nebulous shit you gotta do weighing you down all the time, you only have what is in front of you at that moment, just one doable thing. Not to be dramatic, but the power and freedom that feeling gave me cannot be overstated.

A diagram of the system is here on page 120 if you want to have a look, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense outside of the context of the book.

So my general advice is to take care of your precious self, and to read Getting Things Done. You can stop reading here, but I thought I'd include exactly what I do below in case it helps you at all.

This is long, but it just boils down to thinking of a thing I have to do (5 seconds) and adding it to the right Trello folder or to Google Calendar(30 seconds).

My work allows my setup to be completely paperless, I do it all on my computer and smartphone. I have the apps Trello, Google Calendar, and OurGroceries. Trello is the heavy hitter here, it's just an app that lets you create lists of things on boards. Like a bunch of bulletin boards. I set up four boards titled Next Action, Projects, Someday/Maybe, and Reference. Each board can have lists in it, for instance I have "work" "personal" "crafts" etc in my projects folder.

Every time I become aware of something I need to accomplish, I process it using the chart. I just do it in my head at this point, and the following takes about 30 seconds at the very most. First, I define what is is. If it will take less than two minutes to accomplish the entirety of, I do it ("File these papers," "Order lunch," "Send that email to your brother," "Wipe the bathroom sink" etc.). Otherwise it either gets delegated, or I add it to one of the four Trello boards. If it takes more than one step to accomplish it ("Learn JavaScript"), it goes on the project board. I also have a list on my Project board of things I am considering buying under the title "Want." If I know I need it, it goes on the OurGroceries app.

If it is only one step, I define the very next physical thing I could do to accomplish it, and add it to Next Actions ("Open Beginning JavaScript 4th ed. and read Chapter 5"). If it is a plan for the future that I want to accomplish some day, it goes in Someday/Maybe ("Go to Leavenworth for Oktoberfest," "Become conversant in Italian"). If it is some important piece of information that I need to hang onto, it goes in reference.

If it is something that needs to get done on a specific day ("Dentist Appointment" "Send Melissa that email before she goes out of town on Thursday"), it gets an event on Google Calendar. If it's something I want to remind myself of but can't do right away, it gets an event on Google Calendar ("Tickets for that show go on sale September 10th"). I also have weekly events scheduled on my calendar to remind myself to do laundry on Sunday, that the Farmer's Market is a 3:30 on Mondays, etc. etc.

The key thing is, when you think of a thing, you have a spot to put it down to get it out of your head, processed, and added to a place you look every day. Then, every morning over coffee, read over your Next Action List, your Google Calendar schedule for the day, and scan your projects. I just keep Google Calendar and Trello open on my desktop.

That's what has helped me achieve more goals, and generally be less weighed down by never getting anything done. If I can improve my productivity, seriously you can too. Did you see the part where I was 25 and sleeping in til 1 pm regularly? Not pretty. Good luck!
posted by moons in june at 6:29 PM on August 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

Man, I wish I had The Answer -- but in the meantime here are some self-help-y books I have been re-reading periodically to help me manage my Attention Issues:
  • The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD
  • Understand Your Brain, Get More Done
  • The Now Habit
All three have very specific suggestions for tactics and strategies to keep yourself pointed in the right direction. (From the last one, I found the Unschedule particularly useful for getting unstuck.) I also re-read Feeling Good from time to time to manage the downstream emotions that come with feeling like things are out of control or that I've fucked everything up.

At a general level, exercise, sleep, and practicing some kind of meditation are sort of keystone habits for me (not that I am excellent about remembering to do them, but things do go better when I'm doing them regularly). I also try to hide a lot at work and telecommute from libraries etc. when I have to do something really concentration-heavy like writing or reading or finicky boring coding stuff.

One little thing that wasn't mentioned in these books: paradoxically, I've noticed that my days are more organized when I have to commute by mass transit, even though it should of course be the opposite. I think it's because the commute narrows down my options to specific buses/trains at specific times. That in turn helps me avoid going "oh I just need 5 more minutes" for three hours. Plus you can use the commute time to meditate, if you remember to do it.

Honestly, I couldn't make it through the actual GTD book to save my life -- I remember the book just seeming like a meandering flood of details, which is like kryptonite for me. But other people do seem to like it.

(Also, stuff like cleaning the bathroom isn't a moral issue! Make sure you're not holding yourself to other people's expectations and that the stuff you're trying to make progress on is stuff you actually want to do, and not stuff you feel vaguely socially shamed into doing but actually don't care about. This very well might not be applicable in your situation, but I also struggle with this so I figure I'd mention it.)
posted by en forme de poire at 7:17 PM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, sorry, I should have clarified. I think the GTD ideas are good, I just disliked the way they were presented in the book. Fortunately there are a lot of places that have more concise overviews of GTD, like here.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:24 PM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Like many on this page, I have struggled to get all my ducks in a row. It's helped to think of my day as a kind of a circular repetition, each day you refine the algorithm that gives you the most optimal result. So, up at 5, coffee, make lunch, exercise, meditation, prep for the day, go. That's the most basic element that repeats every day. I've become so regularized around this that skipping doesn't even happen, I just automatically go to do my morning routine. My fitness session alternates pushing the envelope (kettlebells or high intensity) with yoga/pilates routines so I expand my fitness on one day, then stretch and relax on the next, repeating over and over.
Over time, I've started to see my wellness really develop into something that totally makes over my experience daily, like a factory that works better running at 3/4 capacity than one that's always maxed out. Given our genetic heritage is designed to work at a much higher level of output than civilized life calls for, I see myself reaching a normal level of fitness now compared to what I've been at most of my life. It's immeasurably helpful in balancing my mental and emotional stability. My theorem is that if you want to achieve something, you have to have the spare capacity to do that special thing and then some.
On goal setting and other types of 'normal' adult behavior, I've come to see that investing time in some pursuit for the long term takes some neurological strategies that focus your organism on an outcome over time even if the pursuit has no immediate chance of reward. Visualization helps there.
Then getting organized so all your stuff, your to do's, your calendar items, your wish list, it's all in some system that coughs up the right thing you need at the right time, taking it out of your brain's processing loop. Every moment you spend fretting over some future thing you need to do distracts from the big picture and what you are doing right now.
posted by diode at 8:19 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

ADHD/history of depression, here. Medicated, but still struggle at times. Here are some things that have worked for me:

Coming up with a routine/schedule, BUT even more important than the actual schedule is the way you implement it. Go slowly. Pick one small thing, something "trivially easy" (because let's be honest, even the most basic tasks that seem stupidly easy aren't necessarily easy for our brains), and focus on that. And not just for a day. Like, an entire month.

For me, I started with making my bed. Every morning, first thing, I made my bed. This had a couple benefits. 1) It encouraged me to get out of bed 2) It was simple and easy to do once I committed to it and 3) I had positive visual feedback. From here, once I had really mastered the bed making habit, I moved on to doing my laundry at a specific time each week. (Saturday morning, first thing for me.) This dovetailed nicely with the making my bed thing. Also, make sure you have at least two sets of sheets, so that you can strip your bed and then immediately remake it. Also, I always immediately sort and put away my laundry as soon as it gets out of the dryer. Otherwise, it could sit in a laundry basket for god knows how long.

This brings me to another important thing: When feasible, always do the thing now, not later. For example, if you notice the dishwasher is ready to unload, do it right away. It takes two minutes, and once you start putting it off, you're much more likely to continue putting it off (or at least this is the case for me).

It's also really important to triage and prioritize. For example, it's totally worth it to me to make my bed in the morning. However, this may not matter to you, so if it doesn't, then don't worry about it. Along those same lines, I really am a lot happier if my room is neat and clutter free on all visible surfaces, but I really don't care about the state of my closets or drawers as long as they aren't completely out of control. This means that anything that I don't have to worry about messing up/wrinkling doesn't get folded; it just gets shoved into the appropriate drawer. I realized that I usually ended up messing up all the folding anyway when I was rummaging around in there anyway, plus it makes laundry day go a lot faster. Yay for efficiency!

One more thing: make everything as easy on yourself as possible. For example, I keep a small freestanding mirror on my night stand, and my makeup bag goes in the nightstand drawer so that in the morning, I can put on my makeup while sitting in bed. I keep all my hair stuff (brushes, straightener, blow dryer) in a pretty but functional wicker basket which is right next to the outlet and mirror that I use when doing my hair. I like the basket because I can just toss everything in there, and I'm much more likely to put things back in the proper place if it's within arms reach.

One last thing: If you need help regulating your sleep schedule which I did since I'm a night owl by nature, I've had good luck using one of those wakeup sunlamp things in the morning (this is the one I have). For night time, I bought these glasses to block blue light from my laptop and tablet screens, and I use this bulb in my bedside lamp on my nightstand since it also is supposed to help filter out blue light. I was skeptical at first, but it's really helped me a lot. Heck, even if it's just the placebo effect, I'll take it.

(Apologies if this is too long/incoherent. I'm tired from work, but if I don't post this now, I'm sure I'll forget about it and never get around to posting it, as has happened to me pretty frequently on askmefi.)
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:38 PM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Tiny habits is helpful for learning how habits work. It's a free one-week thing you can sign up for. Healthmonth I haven't used for a while but I've found it useful in the past, as long as I don't overdo my goal setting. Metafilter used to have a team there, not sure if we still do.

I have a small private group of friends on FB and we set goals with each other. Posting goals like "I'm going to start a load of laundry before I get back online" helps me.

Since my big time sink is the internet, sometimes just saying "I'm going to close the laptop for 20 minutes" can really help me refocus.

While in my last apartment I put together a cleaning routine which I think was based on the first two checklists here on UFYH. I adjusted some things - for example I don't cook much so I don't feel I need to overhaul my pantry every month. I used a habit app to remind me of which tasks to complete every weekend. It was working pretty well - then I moved and in the resulting chaos all of that fell apart for a while.

Two more things that help me: External motivation and a body double. External motivation means inviting someone over for game night or drinks. That shifts my focus from doing all the cleaning "right" to "getting this place to look decent enough within a limited amount of time." The body double is an ADHD tool that just involves having a supportive friend present while you work on a task. I recently sat with someone while they worked on something that was difficult for them. I didn't do any actual work, just offered opinions and encouragement and managed the playlist.

I could have written your post. Don't be too hard on yourself -- it takes time to figure this stuff out and make it work for you.
posted by bunderful at 7:11 AM on August 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

On re-testing they found that the largest factor that determines if the child eats the marshmallow or not is if the child trusts the tester. Kids who figured they were being given an impossible task, or who figured the tester would disappear before they got the second marshmallow, or who were anxious some other kid would come in and eat the marshmallow(s) ate the first marshmallow while they still had a chance to. So please consider that some of your organizational details may come from the expectation that there will not be a pay off for doing the right thing, or that the payoff for doing the wrong thing is bigger.

Everything in your life should be fun. (Unsupportable extreme assertion) Making your bed and washing dishes is nesting behaviour. Shaving, fixing your hair and putting on clothes is preening behaviour. Going outside to run errands gets a payoff of stimulation and acquisition. If much of what you are doing feels it requires self control to make you do it your are missing the natural pay off of doing normal human things.

Supposing you have trouble with grooming, I would explore what happens when you do groom. One one side you get OCD behaviour where you can't stop grooming, such as picking your skin, because it alleviates anxiety. On the other side you get self neglect where you huddle in the bottom of a cage on some soaked newspaper with mats in your fur. You theoretically fall between these two extremes but not at the happy medium. There are many reasons why you might not groom which could be effecting the pay off. You might not groom because it attracts unwanted attention, or it violates your micro-cultural norms (in your family we never could afford new clothes so wearing nice clothes makes you feel awkward and like a pretender) You might not groom because you handle anxiety by obsessive facebook checking and facebook checking is better at lowering your anxiety. You might not groom because it reminds you that you are fat, ugly, disgusting, low status and going to be treated badly. You might not groom because you have sensory issues and water on your scalp over stimulates you so much that any day when you shower is a day over functioning so much that you need a week to recover. And finally you might not be grooming because you can't find your darn hairbrush.

The thing that making plans often does is fail to take all of the underlying stuff into account, so when it comes time to bounce out of bed, shower and eat a high protein breakfast you get lured into the cul de sac of looking for your hairbrush and in the course of the search find that cool bottle of hair gel you always meant to use and guilt makes you revise the plan from "brush hair" to "fix hair in a cool and fashionable style" (something you have no practice doing and is not a routine) so you end up eating celery for breakfast standing up in front of the fridge at one-thirty, and your hair looks awful and you need to shampoo the excess gel out and you were using your spouse's hairbrush because you never found your own anyway.

So as well as making your plans, you might try preparing your equipment ahead of time. If finding your hairbrush is part of planning instead of execution it can help avoid perfectionism swell, or sidetracking or inaccurate estimation of time.

Executive functioning varies up and down according to how much it has been over used, what your blood sugar is doing, what your morale is doing and so on. I function best in the morning and when I am alone. Living with people who have rotating schedules I have found myself on occasion getting up earlier and earlier in the morning to try and take advantage of that fresh-from-a-good-night's-sleep clarity, to the point that as a very young teen I was getting up at two-thirty in the morning when the damn grown-ups finally went to bed.

It could be that you are making your plans in the evening and trying to carry them out in the morning when you are staggering about in a sleepy fog desperately wishing this was a weekend and you could go back to bed and only the increasing soreness of your scalp finally clues you in to the fact that you are using the wrong end of the hairbrush on your head... In that case the evening or the middle of the day might be a better time for you. Look at the factors that have been in play when you have managed to be productive and happy.

My question is, what happens when you try to put one of your plans into action? What is different from when you are sitting happily ensconced in the organization phase making a to-do list compared to when you are supposedly working your way through that list? You clearly have the basic aptitude for organization and productivity because you can make the plan. Can you figure out why your follow-through turns into a falling-down?

It may be that you completely fail to remember that you were supposed to follow through on your plan. It's five days later before you even find that file you left squarely in the centre of your computer desktop and recall that oh yeah, your new health program was supposed to start last Monday.

It may be that you know in the back of your head that this is it, this Monday morning, this is the time when your life turns completely around... but your kid can't find his other sneaker, and your spouse has left the frying pan full of last night's left over sausage, and you can't find out if he took the dog out for a pee because he is in the shower right now, and wait a minute, is this garbage morning? Relaxing yoga on the deck at dawn fails to happen when there is a conspiracy against you.

It may be that you know in the back of your head that this is it, this Monday morning, this is the time when your life turns completely around... just as soon as you answer your Farmville requests, check your quests and find out what the new quests are this week and send out an appeal for the items you still need.... In this scenario you know that there is something keeping you from following through because playing Farmville is more important to you than actually taking up yoga, no matter what you may say or think.

My suggestion in this case is to link your Farmville with your yoga practice. Farmville - and many other obsessions - can be tweaked to involve lots of pauses. Send out a request for left handed sprocket rollers and then put on your tape of zen relaxation music. Visit one farm and do a sun salute. Visit another farm and do a downward dog. Rather than cutting off the anxiety reducing Farmville habit cold turkey it is sometimes possible to transition it into a Farmville-yoga habit that manages to both keep your anxiety in check and give you some relaxing anxiety reducing stretches.

If anxiety is stopping you from doing what you wish you would do, take heart, because people who get lots of stuff done are frequently high anxiety people who are controlling their anxiety by doing things. You only need to transition from handling your anxiety by doing low-productivity stuff, to handling your anxiety by doing high productivity stuff.There will be an extinction burst of high anxiety while you switch from one lower value calming behaviour to another higher value behaviour, but it will help you move from being anxious because you have a lot to be anxious about (all that important un-done stuff) to either not being anxious (when all that stuff is finally done) or to being anxious without having anything to be anxious about. If you find you have done everything you should and are still anxious, it's time not to do other stuff that you should, but rather to tackle your anxiety as a problem in itself.

Another scenario is that you wake up Monday morning, open your organization plan, look at it and go blank. Groom? Brush my hair? .... Uh... uh.... Either you can't figure out how to start despite making such carefully though out directions as Remove covers. Put feet over side of the bed. Stand up. Walk to bathroom. Close door. Pee. Or perhaps when it comes to obeying your own instructions something inside you wells up and you damn well refuse to do it through sheer ornery resentment, or panic, or something.

It may be that your organization list is full of oughts: 1. Become handsome 2. Be a brilliant academic over-achiever 3. Become a sunny tempered earth-daddy who never gets frustrated with my kids. And yet frankly that paunch of yours is going to require months and months of starvation, exercise to exhaustion and injury and putting all your spare time into the project before leaving you with empty, ugly rolls of slack skin dangling down the front of your belly, leaving no room for projects 2. and 3. It's not that you are self sabotaging yourself or disorganized, it's that you know secretly that it's not worth the effort and you don't want to do it, but you are paying lip service to all those Men's Health magazines that take three glossy pages of pictures of an Olympic team swimmer/male model doing sit ups to show how you too can get washboard abs in one month if you follow this plan.

Keep this in mind. I see many people who have forced themselves to do the right thing and took student loans and got through school and become a professional only to discover that they hate their job and they are just as poor as if they had made bad choices because paying down the student loans eats up all the profit from having a professional salary. You may not really want to succeed at your goals if they are somebody else's goals whether those of society at large, or your parents, or your parole officer.

In order to figure out why you are not yet as productive and focused as you would like to be, you need to be aware what happens and what goes through your head when you choose not to follow through on those plans you make. I'm saying choose not to because it is useful to take ownership of your life and face the possibility that you may be choosing to be distracted because choosing to be distracted is the better choice. At this point you want to take the credit for making that choice. Harkening back to an earlier example I made, the choice between not taking a shower and having greasy hair, versus taking a shower and spending the next three days in your room recovering from a bad instance of over stimulation, is the kind of situation that requires understanding yourself and accepting yourself. It might just be that your actual choices are similar ones to my scenario of either seeing people while you have greasy hair, or not seeing people at all. Understanding factors like this open up a new set of possibilities. You might find that getting your hair shaved off and then wiping your scalp down with a wash cloth is not over stimulating. But it is hard to think outside of the box when the whole world is aiming a tidal wave of disapproval at you because you are supposed to effortlessly have clean, fashionable hair.

Depression has a biological function. It gets us out of competition. Just as a sick person crawls into bed and stays there feverish and miserable which gives them a chance actual heal rather than battling around going to work and doing their daily life, depression tends to paralyze you and makes you hang onto your resources. It's equally inconvenient to any other long term illness that makes you spend time in your nest not doing anything. If you've got the mumps you probably understand that you need to reserve all your available blood sugar and energy for your immune system to do its work. It's harder to accept that if you are depressed you may only have two spoons and you have to choose where to spend them wisely. But the only practical difference is that with mumps people tell you to stay home until you are not infectious or until you have gotten your strength back; with depression they tell you that staying home will only make you more sick, and suggest that you get outside and do things to cheer yourself up.

With depression the stuff you do when you go outside to cheer yourself up has to cheer you up. If it doesn't then it's as bad for you as staggering out to the store while you are running a temperature of 104*.

(I think that depression can often be triggered by or worsened by social vulnerability. Post partum depression could easily lead to mothers with little vulnerable babies not taking them outside where they could catch the mumps, or get killed by some other rival mother who is reducing the competition her own kids face. Similarly an alpha male who gets fired is at significant risk of staying home to lick his wounds. Many of the things that trigger depression are things that leave us socially vulnerable and can be equated with a drop in competitive ability.)

Anyway, I suggest that you treat your depression by doing things that are ego bolstering. Do easy things that make you feel successful and competent. Don't draw up a strict plan for the rest of your life. Don't start projects that you have a reasonable chance of failing. Work within loving parameters. Remember, you got as far as you have through slow, little steps. The person to compare yourself to is the person you were in the past. You have mastered an enormous number of skills that you don't celebrate now - things like being able to go to a store and use money - but those very basic skills actually took you years to acquire and had a prolonged set of precursors. You had to learn to count before you could learn to understand money. You had to learn to go outside and navigate on your own before you could go to a store. You had to learn how to interact with strangers. If you are having problems with basic tasks like regularly cleaning your bathroom it may be that you have not mastered one or more of these precursor skills.

Do you think you might find that working on some kind of a sorting or perceiving skill might help? Multitasking is something you describe as a problem and so is doing entrophic, rather than heroic labour. (Entrophic labour is what has to be redone constantly and can never be finished, heroic labour is the kind of work that creates change.)There is a game called Kim's Game where you look at an array of objects for a short time, then the objects are hidden and you try to recall as many of them as possible, which is intended to train both memory and perception.

You might try similar games tailored to your own needs such as assessing on a scale of one to ten how clean any given room is (but you have to justify that number) or how close to complete any given job is. Another exercise might be to practice figuring out how many things you are doing at once when you are multitasking and ranking them either by order of importance, or by chronological order (I have to finish answering the phone before I can go back to working on the computer, but since I have been interrupted anyway I should probably go pee, but I will need to remember to come back to the computer task instead of getting something to eat and the music I am playing in the background is helping me to stay relaxed and awake. Primary goal: computer; Must finish first: phone call than pee; Ignore: hunger and music.)

There is a lot you can do if you look at yourself as a work in progress rather than as fuck-up. The mind set is completely different and will go a long way towards helping you meet your goals.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:44 AM on August 8, 2015 [12 favorites]

One thing that's really helped me at work is the Ivy Lee Method. Doing the prioritization of what I need to do the next day at the end of the current day helps me not have to think about what I want to do. Having a limit of six tangible things means I have to break up my tasks into manageable chunks. Breaking up a long term, large project into smaller chunks has been a great help in getting me to work on and complete such projects. I'm still not as focused as I'd like to be, but I've noticed that I'm much more productive with that limited set of tasks set for each day.

I've also read a book called Systemantics recently. Internalizing the fact that failure is a part of any system, and thus life, has helped me dwell less on things going wrong and more on how to minimize the damage when it happens. I think a lot of the reason I'm "unfocused" is because I'm a perfectionist and if I feel that I won't do something right, I won't do it all.

Anyway, that's my two cents. I've been doing a lot of research into this question and would be happy to share what I've found on MeMail if you have further interest.
posted by reenum at 11:52 AM on August 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

Here are a few things that have helped me. Much of it may not apply to you, but maybe you'll get some ideas that fit better with your situation.

(1) External pressure. I see from your history that you were applying to a graduate program a couple of years ago. I am, in my late 30s, in a very demanding grad program with very high standards for organization, "professionalism," punctuality, etc. If anything, academics are a distant second. So the fear of the Lord is in me, especially because I'm not getting younger. If your present situation doesn't have built-in pressure, can you fake it? 8 am exercise class for which you have to pay a LOT? Monday morning staff meeting with peers/colleagues, initiated by you? Part-time job from 8-10 each day? Morning Skype chat with an accountability partner you wouldn't want to disappoint (old family friend, Type A college friend, therapist...)

You say, not without reason, that if I am in this kind of situation, then I by definition am not as bad off as you. Well, maybe, but you've got to trust me that I got here by neglecting EVERYTHING else in my life.

(2) "Positive Professionalism Log." To counteract the negative writeups that, yes, I have gotten, I made a Google doc with date/time/description of things I do right (appointments, deadlines, etc.) Believe it or not, this really helps.

(3) LeechBlock or similar internet blocker. Set it to nuclear.

(4) Keys attached to wallet. My wallet has a key ring and my keys stay there. When I had a transit pass, this was in a card holder thing on the keychain. It's a lot harder to lose them.

(5) If you can't handle it, then you don't get to have it. My dream is to keep house on a large scale. I can't do it. So I have (literally) 2 plates, 2 sets of silverware, 2 large all-purpose mugs... A few other things are in a box under the bed for entertaining. I can't entertain at this point, so I don't.

(6) Ditto with clothes. I have exactly 2 loads of wash per season, 1 set of sheets, 1 regular towel, 1 kitchen towel, 1 gym towel. If it has a hole or a stain that doesn't come out, out it goes. Also, see item 1, I can't wear anything but very clean clothes in this new scene I'm in.

As you see, mess is a big problem of mine. Even if you don't identify mess as your big problem, see if some of this doesn't trickle up. Broken windows theory of organization...

(7) Gotta make sacrifices on some things just to make it from one day to the next. You can't expect every diabetic to make homemade sugar-free snacks for themselves; they might just pick the least sugary thing in the vending machine and take another half of a pill, which is still better than eating 2 doughnuts. In that vein, I have tabled recycling and donating to Goodwill at this point. If I recycled at the standard I desire, my house would be overrun with flies.

(8) Exercise. Find a stationary bike and put it NEXT TO THE BED. Easier said than done, and don't I know it.

(9) No internet at home? A corollary to LeechBlock, above.

(10) Pretend that you are moving to a faraway land. I moved in a compact rental SUV and left almost everything but clothes and keepsakes behind, even most of my books. Only that kind of move would have made me "streamline" this there a friend who can make you pretend that you're moving?

(11) Take care of the pennies... I always fail when I decide on a sweeping systemic change. This little stuff has helped and it really has trickled up. But, I'm serious, the single biggest motivator is professional pressure. What's more, some changes in my family of origin mean that I couldn't even necessarily go back to my parents for any situation short of starving, not that anyone my age wants to do that.

Feel free to memail me if you want to talk further!
posted by 8603 at 4:45 PM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

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