The #3SkillsYEG Challenge, part 2: Getting organized

I’m starting today’s post while sitting in my vehicle waiting for a tow truck. It’s my second post about #3SkillsYEG, a challenge to Edmontonians from the Edmonton Public Library to learn three new skills in three months.

I mentioned in my first #3SkillsYEG article that I was writing about my second month’s skill first: joining the circus for March’s theme of creativity and expression. I am now finally writing about the first skill that was on my list, for February’s theme of personal growth and wellbeing: getting better at staying on top of my to do lists.

I just didn’t get to it until now. This, I believe, is an accurate time to insert the question “isn’t it ironic?”

One of the things I’m learning in my quest to get more organized is more about the double-edged sword called the anywhere workplace. Writing this blog post while waiting around for my vehicle is an excellent example of both the benefit and the potential danger of the anywhere workplace.

I’m right now living the benefits of cloud computing – I’m working on a document stored in Office 365, editing it in real time with my editor back at the office, while sitting in the showroom of a locksmith’s shop, waiting for my truck’s ignition lock to get repaired. I’m answering email on my cell phone. I’m researching information on the internet and back on the company network. It’s a powerful set of tools that lets me take advantage of time that would otherwise have been wasted. You would think it would be no problem getting things done.

But for someone like me, it can also be a terrible distraction. An email comes in and no matter what I’m doing or where I am, it gets my attention. The places I find myself working are not always conducive to concentration or proper ergonomics; they are rarely distraction-free. “Researching” on the internet is sometimes a rabbit hole that takes me hours to escape. It can also end with me not even remembering what I went looking for in the first place.

So what does all that help me learn about getting better about my to do lists? That at least two lessons from my grade eight shop class still apply.

One: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In other words, you need to find the right tools for the job.

Two: Measure twice, cut once. In other words, think and plan first, then act.

Let’s start with measuring twice. With the help of a mentor at work, I’m learning to do a weekly debrief. A simple concept in theory, more difficult in practice. A weekly debrief means taking time at the end of each week to list off what happened. I answer eight questions that help me identify what I accomplished or did not, where I still need learning and what opportunities there are for the following week. The other key element is that I have to send the debrief to someone. They don’t even need to read it, but the fact that they expect it helps hold me accountable and build the habit of taking time to review and think. The debrief then becomes the basis for planning at the start of the next week – the second “measure” of what I need to do with my time – plus a running checkpoint to keep me on track.

Just to add to the irony, my mentor gave this to me to try out at the end of January. So another lesson learned: I have to buy into it for it to work. But with an extra boost from #3SkillsYEG, I’m excited to get started.

This where the well-stocked toolbox comes in. We will find out if the debrief is the right tool to help me prioritize, at least for work. However it’s just one tool in my toolbox that I want to try. I’m learning about others too, and need to figure out which ones will work best for me. What I know didn’t work was trying to solve my entire (dis)organization project with the one hammer of a to do list. Now I’m finding different tools to tackle different organizational challenges of my life.

The debrief will hopefully help me keep my eye on the big picture over the course of the week and also help me with communicating what needs to get done.

Taking time at the start of the week to plan with my debrief will help me pre-load my calendar with blocks of reserved time for the priority projects. I can even plan in advance for a window of quiet time to write, for example if I’m waiting for the kids in soccer practice. My calendar is proving to be a better ‘to do’ list than an actual to do list, because I never really needed a to do list in the first place. What I needed was something to organize my time, not my tasks.

So lessons learned so far:

  1. I really need to look at the big picture of organizing myself first, then find tools that can work for me and support me when the distractions and time crunches hit.
  2. I actually have to put time aside to organize my disorganization.
  3. People like my work mentor can offer me tools and support should I need it. I just have to be open and honest and communicate when things are not working.
  4. My life is really sectioned into categories. One tool will not work for all parts, but as I get going I will learn how to categorize and group things so my time is used effectively rather than just being overwhelmed with one giant list that defeats me before I even begin.
  5. Lessons can come from unexpected places. What is it about a locksmith’s showroom that actually made it a very effective place for me to write? Once I know that, how do I plan to be someplace like that the next time I need to write?
  6. Telling people what I’m trying to learn is helping me to learn it. Thanks #3SkillsYEG!

Unlike the circus workshop, this is less flashy, incremental learning, but just as important. It’s going to take time. Stay tuned.

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