The irony of this post is I have spent all day procrastinating on finishing it because I’m not sure it’s going to say all that I want it to.
This year, I plan to work hard to get my work systems to “cruise control” as David Allen would say. I’ve been trying to claw my way back onto the GTD (Getting Things Done) wagon after falling off, and then getting overwhelmed, when the bub was born. I’m going to hold myself accountable to this goal by posting something weekly about how I’m doing.
When I was in grad school the first time round, I once noticed a little quote one of my friends had up on her computer:
It can be finished or it can be perfect but it can’t be both.
When I read it, I realised this was exactly my problem too. So often, I get paralysed by the knowledge that what I’m working on is not, and will not be, perfect. And I feel that if I can’t make it be perfect, there’s almost no point in doing it. Often I think I don’t even take that thought through that far. I just get stuck like a deer in headlights drowning in quicksand and I’ll do anything else but the task or project I need to finish. I can think of about 8 things just off the top of my head right now that I’m actively paralysed on that fall into this category. (I achieved a lot today including writing about 50 thank you cards, moving some boxes to the shed, sorting through a clothes drawer, filled some book orders, all because I had this post I wanted to finish.) And yet, I told someone just recently who was also suffering greatly from her perfectionism, that 80% is still an A grade. I can help other people draw lines under their work but I have great difficulty doing that with mine.
And it’s not just my work that I’m a perfectionist about, I worry that my systems and my lists are not perfect. That they don’t have all the tasks set out at the beginning and that I might be forgetting something. Or that they’re in the wrong order. My handwriting needs to be perfectly neat. My reference material, brainstorms, notes from meetings all get rewritten for filing. I worry that if I come back later and the notes are messy, I might miss an idea. Or I think that all my reference material should inform my systems right away because I might forget to come back and consult my material later on. I read to memorise, that’s the truth on why I read so slowly, as though I could never come back and reread something again later. I worry I will forget I read the material at all and won’t know to come back and reread it. I do a lot of things more than one time through, I reinvent the wheel often (I am diagnosed OCD so that’s not really a shocker).
But the great thing about life is, it’s within my control to short-circuit this stuff. And something I have learned in the last year is, as much as I prefer to go from point A to point C immediately, it is totally ok to take a pitstop at point B. A lot of the time I get pulled up because it’s impossible to finish a task in one go. I do things like start tidying the pantry but run out of time part way in and will leave everything as is, all over the kitchen if that’s what I was doing, because I’m going to come back later and finish it to make it look perfect. And yet, later could be in 3 weeks or 2 months time. I often look like I’m in a state of chaos. But it’s planned chaos, I promise! So one of the things I’ve been trying to do is learn to take tasks to a midpoint. Say, tidying up one shelf of the pantry at a time, and putting things back in a temporary place, waiting for when I get back later to tidy a different shelf which will have the new permanent place. Or you know, breaking large projects down into subprojects with tasks and being ok with just tackling one tiny task at a time. Something that couldn’t be more crucial to progress for me right now than ever before.
I’m really and truly not used to having whole days (of maybe 15 or 18 hours long) in which I might battle to be able to get time to go to the toilet or make a cup of coffee. Where achievements are far more intangible than items I can check off a to do list – like comforting an upset baby. It’s a struggle for me when ticking things off my to do lists are how I validate how I spent the day. It can now take me a week to get anything substantial done.
I don’t really have the answer yet for how I’m going to make this work and juggle all my things. But I’m having to really take on board what David Allen says about weekly reviews – that if you are unable to complete the whole review, just starting it and doing it partially will make you feel better and more on top of your life than not doing it at all. It makes sense but it’s odd and unsettling to feel very organised in some parts and completely in chaos or in the dark in others. But what I’m trying to practise is learning to take smaller steps. I don’t have time to overhaul my whole system, to conduct a complete review, and to work in the size of work chunks that I’m used to. If I keep chipping away at getting my system up to speed a little at a time, and if I break my tasks down to the smallest of next actions (call Bob, find paperwork, buy stamps, fill book orders) and if I work on keeping my GTD systems going forward from today, in the end, I *have* to inch forward towards cruise control. Right?