First the Forest, Now the Trees (an Update)

organizing my lifeI have trouble compartmentalizing my life.  I guess it makes some sense; in some ways, the different threads of my life weave together in a really obvious, organic way.  The state of my home, for instance, affects how stressed I feel, which affects my sleep, which affects my work performance, which affects my feelings of self-worth, etc. etc., but by the same token, struggling slightly or hitting a stumbling block in one area shouldn’t completely waylay my progress in any given other.

But it often does.  This is a continuing issue I need to work on – dusting myself off after a set back, moving forward, and forgiving myself for stumbling.  But it’s also very much an internal struggle that is not the focus of this entry, though I do imagine I will write about it, eventually and possibly extensively.

But right now, I’m still in the early stages of macro-organization: just establishing a routine for the most mundane, bare-bones, most-people-don’t-think-twice-about-these-things aspects of my life.  Checklists to make sure I take a shower, pick out my clothes, brush my teeth, get a good meal in, do my chores, and have a chance to have some creative/restorative time to myself.  As I’ve said before, having to lay out many of those things probably seems ridiculous to some people, but for me, I need to see it written down in black and white and be able to check it off to ensure it gets done.

I used my checklists for the first time today – specifically, my Morning Routine checklist and my Before You Go checklist.  It was not a perfect first outing; my “wake up at 5:30” didn’t get checked off (I woke up at 6:05), but hey – I did morning pages.  Nothing, sadly, got checked off under Get Moving, but I glanced at the list – pinned to the fridge – as I prepped breakfast, and I downed a big glass of water to start the day.  And, I remembered everything I needed to bring to work, including earbuds and a book (which I always forget) that made the two hour-plus-long waits that bookend my work shift infinitely more enjoyable.

So, not perfect.  But without those lists?  So much worse.  I’d have been plagued with morning breath, dehydrated, stressed out, and bored, all before one pm.  I’d say Day One was a success, in that, the system works.  The system made my day objectively better.

And maybe it’s time to move on to more focused aspects of my life – specifically, my relationship with food and exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a whole extensive history there – which, again, I will share eventually – that is not going to be suddenly resolved with schedules and checklists; internal struggles and issues that will take time and support to overcome.

But my usual pitfalls – not being able to “find time” to exercise, not having a plan for any given meal, not having healthy snacks on hand (whether I’m home or out and about), not looking at restaurant menus ahead of time to be informed of options – these are all things that can be, at the very least, helped with some thoughtful planning to create useful resources.

My first steps – I’m back at the gym, and I’m making a pick-and-pair chart for lunch and breakfast foods designed to maximize satiety and mindfulness, and minimize impulse binges on crappy foods.

Wish me luck.  I’ve now got an indication that this system is effective, so I’m hopeful.

A Life in Checklists

organizing my lifeI sometimes wonder how well people really understand me when I tell them how easily I get overwhelmed by the day-to-day.

I feel like most of the people I know are sympathetic in a commiserative way; that they feel like they know what I mean, and maybe even feel the same way – the, “hey, we all have busy lives/work hard/have a lot going on!” mentality.

They probably don’t expect that I mean, if I don’t set an alarm to take a shower or brush my teeth, it might not get done that day.  Or that the accumulation of mess/clutter from daily activities will seem to sneak up on me, and then loom suddenly and overwhelmingly, making me feel incredibly anxious, but utterly incapacitated.  Or that performing a multi-step task – even a familiar one, like cooking – sometimes makes my heart race and my skill crawl with impatience and agitation.

Which is why, when considering how to go about bringing order to my life, I had to consider the most basic, most fundamental levels of organization – the checklist.

My friends are over here with cross-referenced planners, digital calendars and mobile apps, elaborate bullet journals with color-coded spreads – and I’m making simple, laminated checklists.  For things like “eat breakfast. Take a shower. Watch a movie.”  Things that apparently integrate seamlessly into other people’s lives.

But not mine.  And I have to accept that – that for whatever reason, this stuff does not come naturally to me.  But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean I can’t do it.  It’s a massive waste of energy, feeling bad about how my brain is wired, instead of coming up with scaffolding I can build on to compensate for it’s limitations.

So, some people might think it’s a childish thing to have checklists for such basic stuff.

I’d say it’s a pretty damn mature thing, to go any length to ensure these tasks get done with any regularity.

So, I made some freakin’ checklists.

These are the easiest, most basic things I could think of to start with: routines to give me enough options to not feel trapped, yet not so many to incite choice paralysis, with a focus on developing habit and balance.

I’m still working on my lists for the deep clean I intend to do this month, and from there a more detailed daily/weekly chore chart to keep things in order.  I may do one for meal options as well, since outside of dinner, I’m not currently planning my meals, and always find myself either out of food option, eating utter junk, or simply not eating, and none of those are acceptable options if I’m trying to be healthier.

This is an incredibly busy week, but I’m hoping to eek out time tomorrow and Thursday to write the remaining lists.  I plan to start using these beginning Saturday – I’ll be printing out multiple copies and leaving one in my bedroom, and one in the kitchen (that’s one on each floor of the house, where I start and end my days).

Fingers crossed that these help.  They certainly can’t hurt, right?

Organizing the Chaotic Mind

organizing my lifeI’ve spent the last two and a half hours trying to clean the house.  I can’t say it hasn’t been successful – my living room and kitchen are looking pretty spiffy right now – but it’s taken longer than it would likely have taken most other people, because in the midst of completing one task, I have these intense compulsions to stop whatever I’m doing and start something – anything – else.

While I’m tidying up the kitchen:

I should organize Bear’s busy bins for summer.
Did I ever download that preschool curriculum?
I need to touch up the paint along the baseboards.
I should go out and buy organizers for the cabinets.
I still have to make those worksheets for Bear’s binder.
I have to look up home remedies for carpet stains.
I’ve got to scrub down these walls, I haven’t done that in ages.
When was the last time I washed windows?

While I’m vacuuming the living room:

I should steam clean the upstairs shower.
I need to look up those picture frames I found at WalMart.  Ooh, I should see if RetailMeNot has coupons for them.
Maybe I should order the materials to make those sconces for the wall.
I still need to find floral foam and fake succulents.  I wonder if I can order in bulk from Dollar Tree?
I should get new bins for Bear’s clothes.

And those are at least semi-on task.  A ton of them aren’t even cleaning related:

I should do a shopping haul video.  I think most of my stuff from this week is still in shopping bags.
I’ve gotta start doing mail exchanges again.
I should totally start a bullet journal.
I have a great idea for an art piece I could vlog.
I need to go make more headers for my blog.
I’ve gotta update my social media links.

…and on.  And on.  And the amazing (and frustrating) thing is, after thirty-six years, I still don’t know how to just not listen to those compulsions.  I can, for the most part, resist – but it comes at the cost of temporarily stalling out.  Like the act of pulling myself away from the temptation of distraction is, itself, an act that unbalances me,  knocks me just a little bit off-track, and requires a few moments to re-rail.  Usually this looks like me, sitting on whatever surface my butt settles on, and just staring around the room, trying to remember what I was doing, or what I could do next.  Sometimes it’s grabbing a snack.  Today, it was jumping on here.

The problem is, I don’t have a system for dealing with these intrusive thoughts, and it’s not like they don’t all have some merit.  But I have no system worked out that allows me to address them all – if I think of something and don’t do it immediately, I will put off (or forget) doing it indefinitely.  If I have the motivation and the energy for something one day and don’t jump on it, I will lose momentum and that unfinished task will gnaw at me and drain my mental energy for days or weeks, until I manage to pull myself up again.  I’m not proud of my limitations, but I know them.  I know them very well.  This is living with executive dysfunction.

But, I thought, maybe turning to this blog while I’m trying to recoup isn’t the worst thing to do.  After all, this blog is all about navigating parenthood with a chaotic mind, and the first step to navigating chaos is to impose some sort of order.

And no, it won’t be perfect.  But it’ll give me a structure to work within.

So, while I try to reorder my thoughts and get back to the task at hand, I just want to welcome you to what will be an ongoing series of posts about imposing structure and organization on my life – checklists, schedules, journals, organizational tools – what works, and what doesn’t. 

I might as well utilize what would otherwise be a distraction as a tool, right?  Make it public, hold myself accountable.

It’s a work in progress.  It always is, isn’t it?

Back to the tasks at hand.  One at a time.