The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Getting Things Undone

There are at least three political posts I want to write at the moment, but right now the personal is what’s on my mind. So, if folks will indulge me for a bit, I need to get this out. It’s been one of those months, so far, where I’ve swung between the extremes of the exhilaration of getting to combine my interests and talents in a meaningful way and the shame and embarrassment of letting down people who rely on me and whose respect I’d like to earn.

I’ve been here before. More times than I can count. I wrote back in November about my time/task management issues and my latest attempt at putting things in some semblance of order. I was wary then, about trying yet another organizing scheme.

There have been times throughout my life when this deficiency has been cast in very stark and unflattering light; usually those times when circumstances overwhelm my ability to compensate for it. And there are, in all those periods, events that send me scurrying for some sort of time management information (TMI, for short), the way a man aboard a sinking ship looks for something, anything, with which to bail out the water that’s rushing in. (A bucket would be great, but a teaspoon will do if that’s all I can find. When my first job in D.C. was going down faster than the Titanic, and happened to be riding down in the elevator with the Executive Director, she asked me how I was it was going. I said “Like I’m bailing water on the Titanic with a teaspoon.”) Never mind looking for a lifejacket. That’s somewhere under all the water.

Now — when I’m facing the intersection of work and (a growing) family and blogging and any number of other activities that I might want to engage in — is one of those times. So I find myself reaching for another bucket to bail with, and some trepidation given my track record with this sort of thing (more below). But at this point might worship as a demigod the person who can show me how to get organized and stay organized — to find time to do all the stuff I have to do, and maybe a fair amount of the stuff I want to do — if it will loosen or even completely banish the knot of tension that tightly winds itself between my shoulder blades on a daily basis now.

Six months later, I’m back in pretty much the same place; a little better in terms of the positive side of the scale but losing ground fast, and I’m not sure what to do.

Getting Things Done didn’t work for me. Just like those fancy notebooks I got for school eventually didn’t work for me. Just like the Daytimer I got when I started working eventually didn’t work for me. Just like the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People didn’t eventually didn’t work for me. (It’s a great title, don’t you think? I mean who doesn’t want to be a “highly effective person,” whatever that is?) Just like the Palm Pilot I got eventually stopped working for me. Just like any number of online calendars eventually stopped working for me.

Basically, I’m feeling like a failure, because no matter what I do I can’t get it together and keep it together, because here I sit for the umpteenth time facing the task of getting my shit back together and repairing the damage that results from not having it together; all while thinking to myself “Why can’t I get my shit together?”

And then I remember, “Oh yeah. I have ADD.” Not that that’s an excuse for not doing the things I’m supposed to do when I’m supposed to do them. It’s just a reminder that I’m working with a handicap, which is something I have to keep in mind. When I mentioned my new organizing scheme to a coach a few months ago, and my fear of failing at yet another attempt at organizing myself, she urged me not to think of it as failure when all the above systems stopped working for me, because eventually the become routine and for my stimulation-craving brain that’s the kiss of death. So, I need to re-evaluate my systems and switch them around to keep them interesting.

Of course, I don’t know that until they stop working and I’m facing both things that still have to get done as well as things that now have to be undone because I was the last to know my system wasn’t’ working anymore, but the consequences spread to others beyond me.

Part of it is also a fear of mine: that if I do everything I’m supposed to do, when I’m supposed to do it, I won’t have any time left for the things I want to do. In my case, that means the stuff that I want to write about (usually here) but don’t get paid to write about. I actually sat down and did some math and figured out that if I reserved that for the time that really belongs to only me, I’m looking about about 13% of a 24 hour period, and that’s only if I allow for 5 hours of sleep (max). If I actually reworked things so that I could get 8 hours of sleep, not sit nodding at my computer at 2:00 AM, and do everything else I’m supposed to do, I’m looking at 0%. Six hours of sleep and I can claim for myself a little over 8% of the whole 24 hours.

Either way, that percentage is at the very end of the day, just before bed. By then, the enhancements (think “better living through chemistry”) that actually improve my ability to perform by neutralizing most of the worst symptoms of my ADD have worn off by the time I finally have a moment to focus on something I want to do, without having some other task to perform, job to do, obligation or expectation to fulfill. So, essentially, everyone else gets my brain at its best. I get whatever’s left.

I know every working parent deals with all of the above. What I want to know is how to people with normal brains (or at least non-ADD brains) do it? I know how my brain works.

A while back, I was a retreat where we did a listening exercise. I knew I was in trouble already, because I have trouble listening, but I went along anyway. The idea was to understand three levels of listening: listening to your own thoughts, listening to what’s being said, and awareness of everything around you. The facilitator told us a story less than two minutes long, and was going to ask us questions about it to see how well we listened. Keep in mind, I knew we’d be questioned. Here’s how it went for me:

He starts the story and I see the word “Listen” projected on the screen. That makes me think of a song I wanted listen to on my iPod later. The song made me think about the soundtrack it was part of, which made me think about the movie. Then I thought, “I need to see that movie again.” I tried to imagine my favorite scene, but then I looked out the window and noticed the sky was gray and that it looked like it might rain. I looked down and saw someone’s shoes and thought they were the same color gray as the sky outside, but I really couldn’t tell because I’m partially colorblind and similar shades like that are hard for me …

Then I realized then that the story was winding up. Needless to say, I didn’t raise my hand during questions. My mind had wandered a bit during the story.

Sometimes I think that to do everything I’m supposed to do when I’m supposed to do it, I’d have to go through life with blinders on, just so I don’t see anything that sparks an idea, usually for something I want to read and/or write about later, because what happens now is I see something that sparks an idea, and immediately brings to mind half a dozen ways it’s related to something else. But I can’t do anything about it then. So I spend most of my time thinking about what I want to do while actually doing something else.

Lately, in moments of frustration, I can sometimes be heard to say that I spend most of my time thinking about what I want to do while actually doing something else. Maybe that’s because my mind tends to work in perpetual associative mode, especially in terms of reading and writing. When I read something, I immediately start thinking of how it’s related to something else I’ve read or written. And that usually leads to an idea for something else I want to read or write. Frustration sets in because there isn’t enough time to get to all the things I want to read or write. So instead I think about them while doing something else.

And if I have to wait long enough, I eventually lose the thread I’d only tenuously grasped in the first place. So, I go around with a constant low-grade frustration, thinking about what I’m not doing.

By the time I got home yesterday, I’d started to feel that I’d be better off if I could shut off the part of my brain that wants to do anything. There wouldn’t be anything I wanted to read or study, or write about, but can’t until I either manage to steal time from somewhere or just lose whatever it was in the first place. I’d have no frustrations because there wouldn’t be anything else I wanted to do, and everyone would get what they need from me when they need it.

I’d get things done, and have nothing to get undone. Everyone would be happy, including me, because I wouldn’t want to do anything beyond what I’m supposed to do. Sure, I’d be an automaton, but there would be no more tug of war between obligation and inspiration.

So, is there a book or secret system that can give me that? Because if there is, I’ll give it a shot. Just like I have all the others.


  1. Pingback: Andymatic » Blog Archive » Getting Things Undone

  2. I am totally with you. It sucks, like a LOT.

    You know what gets me focused to get my work done? Rockstar Juiced. Honestly. It’s a Band-aid on a chainsaw wound, but I get to keep my job.

    What a lousy piece of shit hanging over our heads.