Back to our regularly scheduled….

I think the most difficult thing about having picked up more hours at the day job is not just the lack of time, but the way that the lack of time makes it more difficult to establish a schedule. I am a very habitual person. I function best if my time is blocked out in general terms with the activities at hand being a good fit for where my head is at. And yet I balk at a schedule that is too rigid, in which I don’t have choices. That’s why I hate the period right before a deadline. There is little choice at that point. I either get the task at hand done now or it doesn’t get done and I have to deal with the consequences.

I have this mythic idea of there being some more organic way to get things done. That somehow I could do things when I feel like doing them, but everything would still get done. Without rigidity, without compulsion, without stress. Wouldn’t that be magic! I know that this is mostly a pipe dream, but it’s such a nice one that I can’t quite let go of it. So I keep chasing after some real world approximation of it. I put off the rigid scheduling of specific tasks until the last weeks or days before a deadline. I try to establish a routine which keeps me going, by virtue of sheer momentum. I work on the projects at hand, trying to make it feel natural to do them at certain times, progressively ticking off items on a sort of rolling to-do list.

But this is much more difficult when so much of my time is rigidly taken up with the day job. I’m working four nine-hour days, and my commute is forty-five minutes to an hour each way. Then there’s the perpetual tasks of paying bills, doing dishes and laundry, grocery shopping and, go figure, I need some time to transition from my job to being able to do creative work. So momentum is hard to maintain organically on a day and a half or so a week. Just when I get excited about something, I have to go to bed because I have to get up early to go to work the next day.

A couple of years ago, before my schedule got so tight (I was working only three days at the job), I had a conversation with someone who convinced me of the usefulness of PDA’s in organizing time, goals, and lists. I’ve been a list-maker for a long time, sometimes even a compulsive one. Lists on paper can be great for getting stuff out of one’s overcrowded head, but they can also turn into a glaring physical reminder of all the good intentions that come to nothing. The use of Post-it notes can get out of control. So when the PDA was suggested to me, I was an easy target. What Team Order person doesn’t salivate at the idea of a nice shiny little digital box that will magically bring Organization and Order to all aspects of one’s life!

Unfortunately, while I became convinced of the desirability of having all these lists and plans and schedules in one place, that realization coincided with the cold hard fact that I wasn’t going to have $300 to spend on a Palm Pilot any time soon. This realization was part of a larger financial picture which led to my picking up an additional day at the job. But the fact that I was picking up more work hours to get our bills paid also meant that my time for my jewelry was going to be even tighter. So being organized and in control of my schedule was even more important. So I really needed that Palm. Which I didn’t have the money for. Because I needed all my day job income for bills. Which meant picking up more hours. Which meant less time for jewelry. Which meant less of a chance to make extra income. Which meant I couldn’t buy a Palm. Which meant I couldn’t get organized. Which I needed to do in order to squeeze in time to make jewelry. And round and round. I couldn’t solve the problem (i.e., buy the PDA) because I had the problem (i.e., not enough money to buy the PDA.) This sort of thinking is what a wise and kind friend once called “manufacturing stress” for myself. One might also call it “crazy making.”

So this is part of why I’m so enamored with the hPDA lately. There’s a structure to the system, but there are multiple ways to do things; a schedule with flexibility. The week fits on a 3 x 5 card, so I can’t physically write too much into any one day; a reasonable limit to my expectations of myself. Every week, there’s a new card, a new schedule, a clean slate. The physical evidence of an unproductive week is gone by next week, I don’t carry it around like one does with a bound calendar. Every week I can decide if it makes sense to carry the unfinished tasks forward, or if there’s something else that’s more deserving of my attention. I’m working on letting go of the things that don’t get done each day, taking more satisfaction in each thing that does. Is this leading to me being more productive and creative? Still too soon to say. But it seems to be leading to me being less stressed, which is at least a start. And it didn’t cost me $300.

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