00:42 Sun 15 Apr 2007. Updated: 10:25 17 Apr 2007
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Organization makes a lot of things an awful lot easier. This is pretty obvious, but what’s been surprising to me are two ancillary points: small amounts of organization can make a big difference, and small amounts of disorganization can terminate entire projects.

I think that resistance to activities on my part can often come down to really, really minor things. I also think that the lack of an overall plan is something that bogs me down. The flip side of this is that simply formulating a plan san get me past something that I’ve been stuck on for quite some time. Lists are great for this.

Despite all the terrific progress I’ve made in organization, however, I still have a lot of trouble getting certain things done. My taxes are a great example of this… I wanted to do them today, and have spent literally hours avoiding doing them. There’s no real excuse for this—they’re not even particularly hard to fill out. But I’ve avoided it nonetheless.

I suspect that if I’d had a plan (say, one that I wrote out when I did them last year), then I would have done a lot better on them. Not necessarily finished them by now, but I’d be somewhere with them as opposed to nowhere.

List approaches like that seem to work best for me when they do one thing in particular: break down my resistance to starting the task in question. My resistance to doing things tends to be caught up with regarding those things as large monolithic wholes. Breaking them down into constituent parts both makes them seem smaller (and hence more achievable and less onerous), and in addition makes the first step seem small indeed. The approach of lots of small steps has been fruitful for me—but apparently not fruitful enough to ensure that I apply it, or remember to apply it, across everything I find myself resistant to.

Not all plans work once I start on them. I can get stuck here with specific steps where I’m not sure what to do, and usually encounter a lot of trouble trying to just skip past details. For example, in trying to move my old files into Subversion and into a rational structure (and converting them from old formats), I couldn’t seem to simply ignore the questions of licensing and/or metadata, and was somewhat stuck there until I decided on answers to both. They’re not comlpetely false dependencies, but they are cases of the perfect being the enemy of the good, which I think is something I have trouble with—if something’s not going to be ‘perfect’, I get stuck and don’t do it at all.

Again, breaking things down into steps can help here, at least by making apparent the dependencies I’m creating.

Being organized is essentially not having to deal with decisions in as many place along the way to completing a task. Unbelievably (or almost), one of the things that kept me from dealing with email effectively for years was being unable to decide which overdue email(s) to reply to in a limited span of time. Having finally cleared out the ancient email, and having decided on replying to all email every weekday morning, I don’t have that problem, and get just go through my mail fairly quickly. Being organized, or disorganized, in other ways often ends up being about eliminating decisions also—such as the decision of where to look for your keys in the morning if you don’t put them in the same place every night.

A lot of it definitely comes down to committing to eliminating (or “pre-making”) decisions. If I have chores to do and haven’t decided on the order in which to do them, either none of them get done, or the least onerous one gets done. Whereas if I’ve committed to an order, the absence of having to make a decision about which one to do makes things a lot easier.

The only problem there is that the resistance to the most onerous one can get applied to the whole list, and managing that is something I haven’t yet perfected.

So, a list of suggestions for increased organization (which really means increased effectiveness in getting shit done):

* Break tasks down into steps.
* Attach an order to the steps, and ideally put easier tasks at the start, because getting started is hard.
* When stuck, write down why and try to break that specific task into substeps (see Shorter Undistraction Steps).

Another thing I haven’t yet cracked: making sure I remember the tools and techniques I’ve come up with already, such as the undistraction steps, and making sure I keep them in mind for whenever I get stuck—instead of thinking “oh no, I’m stuck, clearly there’s no way out and I’ve never solved this problem before”.

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