Is there a "user's manual for grownup life" out there somewhere?
March 24, 2006 2:07 PM   Subscribe

My current level of "life management" skills aren't cutting it anymore (not that they ever did so great to begin with). How can I get my act together?

For a whole bunch of reasons, I feel like I'm lacking some basic integrative skills in how to lead life really effectively as an adult. I'm talking about personal management here, not relationships or holding down a job or knowing what to do with my life (I'm feeling pretty okay about those!) This goes beyond any one "domain" such as financial, household management, health, etc. I really can be competent with these things individually when I put my mind to it...but given the complexities of modern life, the amount of time my work demands, and some general tendencies towards ADD, I have a really hard time making it all happen.

What's more, my partner is no better at this stuff than I am, and since we're looking forward to having kids in the next couple of years, I really want to work towards getting our act together now and establish some good patterns before things get *really* crazy. As it is, we're both a little flaky and are prone to ignore basic stuff until it becomes urgent. I come from a fairly chaotic family of origin, and I want to be more responsible (and have a healthier, less stressful, and more financial secure existence) than that. But I see other people who seem to keep everything running smoothly and I don't know how it's done.

I'm thinking that we need a FORMAL SYSTEM - some clear structures and manageable routines for paying attention to all of the kinds of things that grownups need to pay attention to. Can anyone who either (1) really has their act together or (2) is my twin and has already hunted down some good resources (books/websites/commercial products?) tell me what those are and/or how to go about setting something up? Also, if we were going to create weekly/monthly/quarterly/annual checklists of the kinds of things to pay attention to to keep our life on track, what should go into it?
posted by shelbaroo to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
posted by konolia at 2:16 PM on March 24, 2006

Look into cognitive therapy.
posted by La Cieca at 2:19 PM on March 24, 2006

Getting Things Done has become really popular in tech crowds. The book is not technical at all but its techniques are simple and just happen to have caught on among a lot of computer folks.
posted by mto at 2:22 PM on March 24, 2006

a quick note about first things first -

>But I see other people who seem to keep everything running smoothly and I don't know how it's done

You appear to be comparing other people's "outsides" to your "insides". They may be just as "little flaky" or even "chaotic" as you claim to feel. But you don't know - you only see what they choose to present to you.

That would be a good Rule Number One in the Formal System that you are seeking to develop.

Regarding a book about the Formal System - How about Life 101?
posted by seawallrunner at 2:24 PM on March 24, 2006
posted by blue_beetle at 3:38 PM on March 24, 2006

I recommend talking to your friends, if those people whose shit is together are friends. I am also good at ignoring things (like cleaning! and whatnot) until it gets drastic. But two things have happened: (1) caring for kids, once you have them, sort of forces you to pull it together, and (2) I have started copying one of my friends who has two kids and manages to keep things going in her household. I'm shameless -- I ask her how often she does x, y, z. What's funny to me is that she says she's learned things from me, like that it's a good idea to weed out unused clothes from your wardrobe. I know this might not be the type of thing you're talking about exactly, but you could try blatant mimicry.

Not that I have my shit together, but I'm making small progress.
posted by theredpen at 3:52 PM on March 24, 2006

Especially (drumroll please) (cue lights and sound effects) Self Discipline.
posted by gilgul at 8:19 PM on March 24, 2006

It's all about balancing. If you really want to know how to manage these things, buy a book on juggling, and learn how to do basic 3 item juggling. Cause that's what life is all about. :)

Seriously. All of my friends think I have my act together and everything runs smoothly. Mostly because I have a substantial amount of cash in the bank and no debt. My secret? I was too lazy to fill out applications for credit cards after highschool, thus avoiding that huge financial pitfall. I got lucky during car shopping and got a good deal on a car that's lasted me 2 years past my loan, and will probably last me another 2-5 years if I treat it well.

My GF now knows better. I just shuffle priorities around. I'm often forgetfull about paying bills on time. I havn't had the power go out yet, but the cable has gone out twice in the last two years (almost 3 times last week), I've had the phone go out once, and I get frequent reminders that I'm late with my insurance payment, never let that one go out though. I generally pay my rent on the 5th, the last day before it's late, and sometimes drop it in the office at 1am on the 6th if I forget on the 5th. (So long as it's there in the morning, they have no clue if it was turned it at 11:59pm or not ;) Never been late on that either.

All this, even though I certainly have the money to pay these things on time. I'm lazy by nature and by medical condition (hypothyroidism, and I'm not on meds at the moment). You just learn to juggle.

The bills are an orange, and I just try to catch the orange before it hits the ground. Once I catch it, I don't worry about it until it goes up in the air again, cause I'm too busy worrying about the apple (groceries) in the air or the pear (family and friends) or whatever. The problem comes when you have all the items in the air at once, and you can only catch a few. Learn to make sure there's only one or two items up there at once, and you'll be able to catch them.

Do I think I'm doing well and have my act together? I could improve a lot, but I'm managing, and in the long run, that's what really counts. I can actually juggle, non metaphorically.

I have tried calender/scheduling programs, or a pen and paper calender. It works for about a week, then I forget to update it, or don't look at it. Good luck if you find something that works for you, let us all know.
posted by Phynix at 5:09 AM on March 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

as a recovering procrastinator & money bleeder i do the following:

1. use an excel spreadsheet to keep a running balance of my bank account for each day; start with your balance and make a column for each month, then enter all of your expected expenses for that month on the day they are due, including non bill items, like your freinds wedding, holidays, birthdays, vacations, etc, anything that will cost you. i even including x dollars weekly for expenses. if you lose yourself, just check your balance online, readjust the starting balance and delete the items that are piad for. although i still splurge heavily, i never do so witthout knowing the consequences this way. if you want a copy so you dont have to set it up let me know.

2. i enter everything i have to do on my outlook calendar, work, personal, social, etc. so i dont forget what needs to be done. sure, i shift stuff around or delete it if it becomes unimportant. as i do things, i then delete them, eg. once i call the guy to come clean my couches today, i will delete that item. if not i will just move that task to next saturday or whenever i anticipate having time to do that.

it beats carrying crumpled lists in my pocket and having to balance my checkbook in that little book.
posted by fumbducker at 9:07 AM on March 25, 2006

I second checking out I learned a lot just from clicking around, and I used/modified some of her ideas to fit my own situation. I most certainly did NOT sign up for the 5 emails a day thing.
Remember that once you have found something YOU like, it doesn't mean your partner will be on board, and that can cause some frustration. Try to work together to agree on what needs work and how you'll approach it, and try to be patient with one another as you both struggle to change your habits.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:32 PM on March 25, 2006

Our very own #1 interviewed someone about this last week.
posted by SenshiNeko at 10:32 PM on March 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I agree with blue_beetle about asking other people. Time spent learning and correct practice, remembering "if it's to be, it's got to be by me." There are tons of great books to recommend, but one of my favorites is Marcus Aurelius - Meditations. Mostly, you learn to accept your own judgement and actions.
posted by vidvicar at 5:55 PM on March 26, 2006

Misquoted blue_beetle instead of theredpen, but I agree with them both anyway.
posted by vidvicar at 5:56 PM on March 26, 2006

I use both and Getting Things Done. Flylady has helped me the most at home (I suggest starting there) and GTD helped most at work.

Don't be put off by Flylady's purple prose -- she happens to have developed a simple system that works very well for those of us have a leaning towards the chaotic. Thanks to her, I finally feel like a grown up at 44.

Good luck.
posted by Skychief at 8:48 PM on March 27, 2006

Actually, there are two manuals to life, both of which I still keep in my apartment, even though I am now 35. Where's Mom Now That I Need Her describes when you should go to the doctor, simple recipes, and how long to keep foods for. The analog is Where's Dad Now That I Need Him? which contains home and car maintenance tips as well as a little in financial management. The books are both nice gifts for the high school grad, but I still use them occaisionally.
posted by Kenshiro70 at 9:24 PM on March 27, 2006

I second Getting Things Done by David Allen. Its helped me enormously in not feeling stressed out by the mass of adult responsibilities, and in getting the right amount of stuff done at the right time.
is great for little tips on improving your personal management.

I also like The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore, for overcoming procrastination.
posted by Touchstone at 12:36 AM on March 28, 2006 is the another popular one-stop-blog for your personal management and life tips needs. And of course Getting Things Done as many other people mentioned.
posted by neoblue at 4:51 AM on March 28, 2006

Organize! Definitly check out Get the gist of her organization ideas and convert them for yourself. She deals mainly with cleaning and keeping up regular maintenance, but the system works great. At least, it did when I used it. Lately I've neglected it AND my house.

Pay bills online! Another thing I've learned is to pay as many bills as possible online or by direct pay through the bank. Especially ones that are always the same amount, like rent, mtg, car loan, insurance...I only get paid once a month, so everything goes out a day or two after that (I use direct deposit, too, so I never have to worry about remembering to stop by the bank before it closes.)

Electronic Reminders! I also make use of iCal and let my computer remind me of everything from large payments that will come up soon (like an annual insurance payment) to vet appointments and birthdays. Reminders can be set up to email you, text message you and/or just show up on your screen. (Or even play a particular song...Our House is a great reminder to pay the mtg!) This has, by far, been one of the most useful things for me, since I'm horrible at remembering things.
posted by kdavies at 11:00 AM on March 28, 2006

Highly recommended reading: The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton.
posted by ert at 10:02 PM on April 1, 2006

Oh, and yes to kdavies' pay bills online suggestion. In particular, I signed up for (now owned by PayTrust, who might by owned by Intuit at this point.) They charge $10 a month to allow you to set up rules like "pay my electric bill 5 days before it's due if it's less than $100, otherwise send me an email as soon as the bill arrives" etc. It's definitely more expensive than the free stuff you get with many online banks these days, but I've found it a lot better at letting me set up exactly what I would be doing with my bills if I was doing them by hand. It also lets you send all your bills to them, even ones from places that can't do online billing. They receive the mail for you, scan it in, type in the amount and due date, and let you view it in a unified view with all your other online bills. I'm sure there's other services that do this, too. If you're having trouble getting to do the finances on time then paying for a sophisticated system will probably save you money by avoiding late fees. If you're totally on top of your finances it's probably not worth it.
posted by ert at 10:12 PM on April 1, 2006

« Older How much time am I entitled to take with my doctor...   |   Purchasing Academic Regalia Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.