Life Sucks: Why Organization Matters

Posted on July 8, 2006

So I started reading Time Management for System Administrators last week and immediately started putting it to use. On Wed afternoon I started reading, on Thursday I started putting it to work, and on Friday I sent off the largest “Weekly List” to my manager in months. More importantly, Friday evening I sat in the backyard with my wife, happy and content that I’d been successful and productive without that “oh crap, what am I forgetting” fear in which I live my life.

Those two days were refreshing and eye opening. I’m now aware in a new way that I am a massively stressed out and paranoid wreck. Honestly, I never think of myself that way. I’m one of those people that wonder about what pain really is, “I mean I feel something, but is that pain, I mean, maybe its not pain but more of an ache”. If you’ve ever listened to the origonal Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy radio plays, I’m sort of like the old man in the cabin, minus the whole being god business. What is stress? Is being busy stress? Does not knowing what I should be doing make me paranoid that I’m missing something? Isn’t that “is that all?” feeling a normal thing? I know I worked my ass off all week, wtf did I actually do?

When I came home feeling confident that I knew what I did and what I needed to do in the future, I had a whole new confidence. That confidence allowed me to stop worrying and start relaxing a bit. And now I think I start to see what that all really means and what it is.

Perhaps the most helpful part of Time Management is how it is lowering my personal expectations, in a good way. SA’s are unique in that we beat the crap out of each other with expectations. We’re fierce and angry outside, but unsure and generally scared shitless inside… but you never ever show that. Can’t everyone manage their lives in their heads? According to the book, no… in fact it points out that the average person can manage 5 tasks in their head, and a really smart person can manage 7. So if your managing more than 7 in your head, your working well beyond your capacity and thats why everything is a cluster fuck. Just that understanding alone is making a lot of things fall into place. The point is to get that crap out of your head and into a system of some kind so that you free up your brain cycles for something else… like, um, thinking.

You’ve only got so much capacity in your head, and I’ve been working well beyond the design specifications of my cranium. I’m starting to realize and accept that. The more I work within my specs, the more I’m finding things easier to deal with. I’m outsourcing the stress of managing life to a system, my organizer.

So the day after I started reading the book I dusted off my Zaurus SL-5500. It runs OpenZaurus and I bought it for Enlightenment development, namely Eplayer. I never intended to use it as an organizer, although I used that as a partial excuse to justify the cost (but it was a $150 refurb, so it wasn’t that bad).

I love my Zaurus, especially because it has a built in keyboard, CF slot, SSD slot and runs Linux. So I started using TODO lists on my Zaurus, but after a week of using it, I’m having problems. Managing daily TODO lists is really nasty. I started creating multiple TODO lists and then shifting things around, but it takes time and isn’t terribly smooth. Its hard to work out exactly what happened when and what got moved when and where, and its just generally a jumble. Simple put, the lists work great for big massive lists but not day-to-day rolling task lists, it doesn’t scale.

The author of Time Management notes that both PDA’s and PAA’s (Analog, ie: paper) can be used, but repeatedly notes that he prefers paper. While he never specifically points to Franklin-Covey, his examples entries do. The PAA route seemed to have merit and would solve my rolling list problem, but I do love the size of my PDA and keeping contacts in a PDA is a lot cleaner than on paper.

Doing some looking into Franklin-Covey I learned that Dr. Covey, a founder of Franklin-Covey (a merger) is the same d00d that wrote the popular “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I’ve never read that book, but scanning the table of contents makes it clear that his organizational systems fit heavily into the habits. He’s done a slew of writting about organization and applied all that to the Franlin-Covey system they provide. Looking interesting, I went to the mall here in Fremont but turns out the store there closed down, so tonight I took the family on a trip down to San Jose and bought myself a planner.

If I went PAA, the most important aspect was that it fit into my pocket (yes, my Utilikilts have pockets). Finding the one above, I fits easily into both a jeans and kilt pocket. So I gathered everything I needed and ended up dropping $70 on everything.. its not cheap. But, the good news is that I think this’ll work. I’ve got it all primed and set, and Tam and I even used it to plan our busy Saturday tomorow. We’ve already turned a horrendously hectic day of erands into a pretty smooth and easy day of relaxing while still getting everything done. w00t.

I’ll report in a week or so as to how well this actually works out. Hopefully I haven’t dumped $70 in vien, but if there is even a chance of it getting me back to that initial high of utter organization I’m willing to take the hit.

Next up on the list, to settle on a ticket tracking system. I handle too many ongoing tasks to fit into just a planner, and now its time for me to finally implement ticket tracking for the office. I’ll blog about solutions that I like and how they work for me.