Organizing Chaos

A New World (of) Order

Disorganization

(noun): Lack of proper planning and control

Synonyms: foul-up, mix up, anarchy, chaos, confusion, derangement, disarray, disjointedness, disorder, disruption, dissolution, disunion, incoherence, unconnectedness, rat’s nest, screwup, unholy mess

Did any of the above synonyms trigger feelings of anxiety, depression, or sheer panic?

Or worse… did any of the above trigger feelings of guilt or familiarity?

Don’t worry, we’ve all be there.
Much of my adult life has been spent trying to perfect order in my life. Whether it be in my professional or personal life I usually think of myself as someone who is attempting to “manage” a system or approach.

I’ll say things like, “I need to manage this situation better” or “I need to structure my day better” or “I need a moment to collect my thoughts”.

These are great quips or sayings to lean on but, when taken in a literal sense, what exactly do we mean with any of the above statements?


A scattered mind

Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist nor do I pretend to be one.
I am however very much negatively affected by disorderly situations.

My wife can confirm the above statement as I regularly forget to do something, return a call, or execute a task if it is not only my calendar. Her quick response (in her irritation) is, “We talked about this” but she knows better than anyone that verbal conversations usually evaporate in my mind at the worst possible time.

This phenomena has an exponentially negative result by my frustration at forgetting causes my mind to further clutter itself henceforth further enabling me to forget additional important datapoints.

The end result is usually me going about my day not executing the important tasks, resolving the urgent problems, and leaving my panini sandwich in the broiler for 10 minutes too long (nothing like flamethrowered bread).


Feeling hopeless yet? I was feeling hopeless too…

The recent pivots in my life over the past 2 years have actually forced me to take notable inventory over my scattered mind. I began to study myself and analyze my forgetfulness.

Was I falling victim to early onset dementia?
Did a few too drinks or funny cigarettes finally catchup with me?
Am I simply “too busy”?
(For the record, I drink about 3x per year and have not smokey anything in over a decade)

None of the above lent itself to be true but I did realize that multiple endeavors and a growing family was causing my mind and memory to both stretch a bit too far.

What could I do?
Abandon every new professional venture and inform my family they could not communicate with me until after 5pm? Not likely a good result…

Instead I decided to leverage not only tools at my disposal but also gradually modify my own behavior to ensure long-term success going forward (← a long-term mindset is important!!!).


Tools in my toolbox

In a construction, I cannot build or repair anything. I’m hopeless.

But I know a good tool when I see one and I have a few that I hope will help you!

Keep in mind, I am not an affiliate for any of these products + I use each of them on a regular/daily basis.


Organization tools

Google Calendar
About 90-95% of my day is on my Google Calendar. I include calls, physical meetings, reminders, and even emails that need my attention.

Probably my biggest productivity hack was adding emails (via subject line) as an event on my calendar; it’s caused others to say, “Nick, you never forget about anything!”

Gmail or Outlook
Nothing fancy here but the art is in how it is used. My trick: folders upon subfolders. A cluttered inbox will immediately lead to a cluttered mind.

File things away and add a note to your calendar to come back to it. Using both my calendar and email inbox in conjunction has been life changing.


Collaboration or communication tools

Google Chat or Slack
Both are great for rapid communication or the quick “can I stop by your desk and ask a question” dialogue.

Both tools keep conversations documented for easy reference BUT AVOID managing anything through chat.

I have seen major communication breakdowns and full blown failures in execution by teams attempting to manage deadline specific tasks via a chat platform. Don’t turn your tools into obstacles!

Google Meet or Zoom
Yes, we live in a world that know leverages video calls as a primary source of communication. I sit on a video call at least 1x per day each averaging around 30 minutes.

Both Google Meet and Zoom are fantastic but avoid falling into “this could have been an email” trap and creating more useless (digital) meetings.

Need to work through a complicated topic with your dispersed team? Video call is a great solution.

Need to confirm if someone read an email? Drop them a Chat message or follow up email.

Loom
My most recent application of a hack in the professional space. My only regret is not doing it sooner.

Loom has created countless productivity enhancements for me. I regularly demo product functionality or testing results through Loom.

My own globally dispersed team can create massive delays in email responses but Loom allows me to quickly demo what I’m seeing and eliminate any ambiguity.

I use the FREE version of Loom which gives me 25 saved videos; amazing value.


Brainstorming or thought tools

Evernote
I just took a quick inventory of the number of “Notebooks” I currently have in my Evernote account – it’s over 30!

In each Notebook I have multiple new Notes; some extend 2+ years with valuable information that has long evaporated from my already full brain.

This tool is nothing short of fantastic.
The free version allows you to sync with 2 devices which was created an incredible connectivity advantage for me.

I’m able to regularly keep it open on my laptop (where I sit on 95% of my meetings) while also having quick access on the go via my iPhone. Did I mention I use the FREE version?

Notes or a digital notepad
Far from my most used tool but something that I’ve recently employed more often.

Might be a little TMI here but I do most of my best thinking while showering… this is not a novel idea as I read/hear about this more often.

“Nick, I don’t care about you showering.”

That’s good. I’m glad to know me showering isn’t top of your mind but I mention my hygiene habits to highlight how I keep my iPhone within an arm’s reach (yes, while showering) in order to quickly type out a thought for future reference.

Remember, I forget quickly so my thoughts need to deposited in record time.

Physical notepad or notebook
My father used to always carry around a large physical notebook. It was in his briefcase at all times and he would regularly pull it out to help me with my homework.

It was never empty either but full of meetings notes, random thoughts, my homework, and anything else that he decided to include. Like most young people, I thought my dad was too old school and lame so why I would use a physical notebook.

I now use the EXACT same notebook my dad has used for so many years.

Not expensive and pretty simple but it’s allowed me to engage deeper in meetings and brainstorm more effectively. Writing things down seems to work better for me. I suppose my dad deserves the credit for this one.

Physical whiteboard
For months my wife objected to this idea. It became an ongoing battle but one that I finally won.

I love my whiteboard.

It wasn’t cheap and it was a pain to install and hang but I love it.

Structured thoughts aren’t what make up the contents of my whiteboard but rather the whirlwind side of my brain. The wild ideas or high-risk/not yet ventures that I would love to pursue.

Remember, I’m not an avid dreamer but my whiteboard is my dreaming partner. Just looking at it now makes me want to end this entry and add an idea or two to the mess.


Productivity monitoring tools

Monday.com or Trello
Both of these tools seem to be geared more towards the software development and/or Agile world of work. They certainly lend themselves well to this methodology of work but I’ve found great use in my own ventures outside of managing software development.

Productivity monitoring is something that I thrive on and managing my own productivity has been easy when employing either Monday.com or Trello.

For beginners, Trello is the best bet if you’re just now trying to organizing your work and break up your day/week/month/year into bitesized chunks.

Monday.com is a beast and very powerful but needs someone with a driver’s permit in project management to best use all of its horsepower.


Final organized thoughts

I hope not only that you have found this read useful.
More so, I hope that you begin to find order or enhancement in your own life.

At one point my own insecurity in my forgetfulness was crippling. I equated it to a lack of intelligence or inability to perform to a high standard. No one wants to feel less than or question yourself.

My hope is that you find even one tool that can begin to help you find your way toward organization. Find your way to better sleep, a restful mind, a less unsettled stomach, less headaches, more intentional time, and ultimately a better you!

All my best on your journey,
Nick

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