Class to keep me organized about organizing?
January 29, 2020 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I have had a longstanding issue with personal organization: tracking and remembering tasks, time management, and organizing knowledge are all recurring problems for me! I think taking a class online would help, but I am not really sure where to start. Snowflake details inside!

Right off the bat, my wife, doctor, and I agree that I likely have a case of undiagnosed ADD. I'm currently seeking a therapist and medication for this to see if that may help. But I have some time on my hands, after challenges where my ability to stay organized at a fast pace once again bit me in the tuchus. Rather than continuing to flail about, I'd like to cut it off at the pass before it starts again.

Here's how it goes. I get involved in a project, or multiple projects, that requires keeping close track of tasks and timelines, and methodically meeting those requirements. I dutifully find an organizational system (GTD, Bullet Journal, Marvin, who knows what else I've been through), get super excited about it, decide to structure my whole life with it... and then I get distracted. I tend to be a poor note taker, either by hand or typing, because it takes a lot of my focus to stay engaged in whatever or whomever I'm listening to. While I'm trying to pay attention, my brain is throwing a tremendous amount of noise at me, and also good ideas that I try to catch and write down. And things move fast, and I can't seem to keep up with them in the system I've committed to, so I start flailing. I'll start scribbling things on scraps of paper, making notes on backs of documents, just creating way, way more hassle for myself than I'm creating solutions. And when it comes down to me sticking with time management, I find that I've got scattered, vaguely coherent notes that are missing vital information for me completing tasks in a reasonable amount of time. I feel like I am just constantly redoing things that I've lost track of. It's anxiety-producing and an awful way to get things done.

But I keep doing it! This time I really thought bullet journaling would be the way to go, and I did great with it for a while. It seemed like a good way to stay on top of things and not lose track. But I couldn't write fast enough to get everything down, and I couldn't keep up and pay attention to my surroundings at the same time.

I don't want to keep going through this! So I am seeking therapy, and maybe Adderall, which completely changed the life of a friend who has similar issues. But I also think that a class would help; something more intensive than reading a guide on a system, but where I will have to learn the system in depth and practice it before I try it out with high stakes. But Googling seems to give me a lot of either 1) Preparing for College/Career kind of primers, or 2) Project Management courses. I have taken classes in PMBOK-style Project Management, but it's not really applicable to managing myself. And I'm a mid-career professional, not the target demographic for most of the personal development/college prep things I've found.

What have you found to give you the ability to stick with an organizational system, and to not get overwhelmed by it? If you are a distractable, big idea dreamer type, how do you get stuff done, consistently? And have you found anything like the kind of content I'm looking for? Thank you so much!
posted by skookumsaurus rex to Work & Money (7 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I’m a lot like you and I actually think a coach is the way to go. (Haven’t done this myself yet, heh.) A regular meeting with accountability to someone else seems like it would work better and be on-going, versus a class that ends.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:49 AM on January 29, 2020

Best answer: I'm a lot like you with a similar job that has lots of things moving at once.

Absolutely, keep pursuing the ADD diagnosis and treatment - it will probably help the issues like not being able to take notes and pay attention at the same time.

You also need to pick a system and stick with it, modifying only what needs modifying. Giving up after you slip and trying something entirely new just feeds into your distracted brain. Instead, after you slip, go back to what you were doing, adjust only what needs adjusting because it's fundamentally not working for you (i.e. use OneNote or Evernote for notes and keep the journal for task lists).

Finally, some of this might just be a workload issue. Time management training doesn't work because the issue for many of us is that organization takes time. If we don't have that time because we are too busy doing the work, no organizational system or skills can solve for that. If you do have the time for organization but are not using it, start literally scheduling those blocks of time in your calendar.

The right system is going to be different for everyone. Personally, I use OneNote to take notes and keep a paper task list in a journal. Every Monday I start a new spread of two pages and write the week across the top. I carry over any tasks from the previous week that aren't completed, and add tasks that came in via email and anything from my meeting notes that is an action item. Others might be able to remember to do this on the fly (i.e. right after a meeting, or as an email comes in) but I can't. My brain doesn't work that way. So instead I do not start my day until this list has been created or updated. Every morning I start by reviewing it, and adding any other items from email or meeting notes.

I create a list by week rather than daily because that's just how my projects work. I never know what day things are going to have to get done but I generally know what week they need to get done. (Anything that does have a specific date deadline I just add the date to it.) I have been trying this new system after previously trying a million different electronic to do lists and finally realized it was too easy to get distracted looking at my screen, whereas a notebook open to my tasks sitting next to me on my desk is harder to ignore and isn't on the machine that is the source of my distraction (email, the internet, etc).

Oh, and turn off email notifications unless you have the kind of job that absolutely requires you to respond immediately. You won't forget to check your email, believe me.
posted by misskaz at 10:47 AM on January 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry for the double comment, but one last thing: no system is perfect, and no person is perfect. Things are going to come in that you don't have a system for, or sometimes you're going to forget to do a step in your process and something will get missed. The way to get better is to keep trying, and ideally keep trying the same thing so it becomes habit. Don't let the occasional slip-up lead to you thinking it's impossible, or that you're broken, or that you need to burn it all down and start with another system that WILL be perfect, this time, you're sure of it. 43 years old and I'm just now figuring this out, so I feel you.
posted by misskaz at 10:56 AM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As a professional organizer (man, I start a lot of MeFi replies that way), I'm going to suggest a few things. First, while I am not a medical professional, what you describe does sound like ADHD, which, untreated, makes it hard (and sometimes impossible) to stick to any system without personalized training and intervention.

I applaud you for getting help on the medical piece of things. Medication is a choice for you and your doctor (preferably someone with a lot of experience with treatment of ADHD and executive function disorders); most of my clients who take medication see a tremendous improvement in their cognitive function and working memory, but that's only one piece of the puzzle.

Second, many of the systems you describe (especially, but not only, bullet journaling) require a person to have a particular comfort level with ritual and maintained organizational skills to get it and keep it working. If you don't have that comfort level, you won't stick to it, so it's a vicious cycle. The more complicated a system is, or the more ritualized (read: "boring" to many ADHD individuals) the more likely someone (anyone, not even someone with ADHD) will abandon it. Systems have to fit with your natural thinking patterns; once we reach a certain age, embracing a system created solely by someone else is very likely to break down.

I find that my clients with ADHD, chronic temporal/task disorganization, and issues similar to yours need the absolute simplest of systems, and systems to which they commit. (Most commonly, people with ADHD will pick a system, try it for a while, get bored because "the system" doesn't work and try something else, over and over.)

Professionally, I'd advise three things:

1) If you are comfortable with a digital system, I'd recommend using Evernote and literally putting anything you have in there. It's searchable -- you can add tags or put things in notebooks, but it will also find things related to text you've entered so you need not worry WHERE you put something. It won't help with the quality of your notes, but it will ensure that you don't lose them.

If you're not comfortable with digital systems, buy a pile of 8 1/2" x 11" legal pads (in other words, not the long ones or the mini ones), preferably in an atypical color (I like purple, but they're the hardest to find). ONLY write things on that legal pad, and never on tiny scraps of paper, never on anything loose or unconnected. Flip to a new page when you're dealing witha new meeting or new phone call for which you're taking notes. DATE the top of each page. Never tear off the piece of paper from the pad unless you've completed everything related to it and you're either trashing it or filing it for reference.

This will help with notes. As for lists of tasks to perform, I could write an entire lesson plan for you about this, and if you were my client, I'd have you brain-dump all of your tasks, identify the priorities (based on parameters we'd set -- things that keep you from losing your job, losing your health, losing your loved ones) and set time for those. You're not my client, which is why a random answer on the green cannot give you what I'd want to give you -- which is why you should be sure to read #3, below, carefully.

2) A class requires someone to be self-directed and able to learn on one's own and also put that knowledge into practice on one's own. A class designed for someone without ADD/ADHD is, in my opinion, going to be of minimal use to you on its own (and on your own).

Classes on organizing for people with ADHD can be helpful. I'd recommend Tara McGillicuddy's classes and support programs. She often has classes that are free, and either way, I'd start with audio classes taught by experts in the ADD/ADHD field, like Dr. Ari Tuchman and Roberto Olivardia. Even if you choose other systems, Ari Tuchman's book, "More Attention, Less Deficit," and his presentations are great and realistic. He's been a speaker at many of my conferences, and would recommend his work. I use things I've learned in his sessions to help my clients, both those with and without ADHD.

3) I think the best thing for you is personalized coaching and training. An ADHD coach who has a background in organizing and time management would be good, but they can be hard to find. I'd encourage you to work with a professional organizer with training and credentials in working with people with ADHD. You can use the directory search at the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO), being sure you select the ADHD option from the business drop-down as an option.

But I'd also strongly encourage you to go to our colleagues (most of whom are also NAPO members) at the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD). The ICD exists specifically to provide education on specific organizing- and time-management-related help for people with special needs -- ADHD, executive function disorders, hoarding disorders, etc. Scroll down on the main page and click "find an organizer" and input your geographic parameters. (Depending on where you live, there are also ADHD specialists who work virtually.)

(ICD members are called "subscribers" -- if you see that language on the site, please don't be confused. It dates back to when the ICD was the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization.)

So, in case you got distracted or overwhelmed by the above: my professional opinion is that you need customized support, not a general one-size-fits-all time management class that may overwhelm and frustrate you. Check ICD and NAPO for someone who can help you one-on-one, and let me know via MeMail if you need help on that part.

I've worked with judges, doctors, lawyers, dentists, professors, and a whole host of people with ADD/ADHD and various executive function disorders, and I strongly recommend personalized help vs. generalized time management classes. The problem isn't you, per se; the problem is finding a way for you to accomplish the tasks and expectations in your life in a way that doesn't overly frustrate you or anyone else. Off-the-shelf isn't the way to get there. It's not easy, but it is possible.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 11:18 AM on January 29, 2020 [33 favorites]

Best answer: I have adhd and would also go with a real live in-person coach.

An online class is just another project to remember to do, with no accountability, log-in passwords to remember etc. It's a disaster. And it's too easy to jump through the hoops without really doing the work you need to. Ask me how I know!
posted by jrobin276 at 8:12 PM on January 29, 2020

Best answer: I recommend Taking Charge of Adult ADHD. The workbook sections were really helpful (and would be great background work to take to a coach), with the caveat that i only sat down, read the book, and really did the worksheets after I started Ritalin. I read several books and this was the one I found most tangibly helpful.

How do I consistently get stuff done and actually use my organisational systems? *Ritalin*
And lots of exercise.
Keep pursuing diagnosis - I think this will make the biggest difference for you!
posted by jrobin276 at 8:22 PM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your detailed and supportive comments! I appreciate all of the resources available here. I can't afford private coaching right now, but I will use all of the resources I can and plan on coaching in the near future. I'm kicking myself a bit for not going down this path earlier. For such a long time, I've felt that my brain is something that I just have to live with, just figuring out all of these things that seem so easy for so many others. It's only fairly recently that it's occurred to me that I can change things instead, and it's a real breath of fresh air. Please share more if you can, but I am heartened by what you have all already shared, and the possibilities of what I could do with a clear, focused mind without all of this constant noise! I have my first appointment for evaluation scheduled and I am nervous but excited to get started. Thank you all, again.
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 7:19 AM on January 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

« Older Best personal CRM / Rolodex app?   |   Annoying truck revving Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.