In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to Get Your Shizz Done*

What I mean by this is how to get the stuff done that you need to get done without being overwhelmed by all the things you need to get done. I'm limiting this to day to day work stuff or house stuff -- not curing cancer or becoming a millionaire. (If I could do either, I wouldn't be here and nor would you.)

I've learned a few things and I keep a lot of balls in the air, professionally, and this is how I do it.

1. Get a blank notebook. The notebook is critical. It must be a sketchbook with no lines on the pages, and it must be hardbound -- no spiral. Nothing that will allow pages to be easily ripped out. And it needs to be big -- too big to haul around. It needs to live in one place and serve only one purpose: to handle your shizz. I like this one, size 11x14" -- about $14.
I'm not kidding. No ripped out pages, too big and heavy to carry around.

The blank pages are also critical. Lines box you in, make you feel like you have to follow rules, that things need to be in order. That just heaps one more problem onto your plate. So no lines. This is going to be free form shizz handling, and it is gonig to be organized the way your brain processes information.

2. Get a good pen, one you like to use.

3. These 2 things will never leave your desk or wherever it is you work.

4. Keep a small notebook and another pen by your bedside. That's for writing down those things that wake you up in the middle of the night.

5. In the morning when you sit at your desk and open your email or go through your voice mail or whatever it is that kicks off your day, open yoour notebook to its 2nd pristine page (you want 2 facing pages open to one another. Make sense?) . With your excellent new pen, make a list as you scroll through your work -- a list of things you have to do, or buy, or figure out. If it makes life easier, make 3 loose columns (or however many) on your page -- 1 list of emails or calls to return, 1 list of questions you need to get answered, 1 list of projects you have to complete. Whatever works.

6. Now, start plowing through your list, top to bottom. Do them in the order you wrote them. When you've done something, cross it off. This is the best part. If it needs following up, write down what you need to do at the bottom of the list.

The genius of this is the following: you focus on one thing till it is done or has reached a logical stopping point, but all the other stuff -- the new calls that come in, the new emails, they get written in on the bottom of the list. If something urgent pops up, write it down. Do that project. Then go back to the list.

If your phone rings and you have to take notes, take them right on that facing page. Write down the phone number you need. If you need to buy groceries for dinner, make a little box somewhere on the page and write in what you need to remember to get. Anything from this day goes on those two pages.

7. Remember, there is brilliance in the phrase: do it now. Your boss wants you to write a letter? Generate a list of contacts? Do it now. Then go back to your list.

8. At the end of the workday, and/or where everything requring urgent action is done, turn the page. There will be things left undone on your previous day's list. There will be phone numbers scrawled, maybe some doodles. That's ok for now. Leave the page clean.

9. Tomorrow morning, when you sit at your desk, turn back to the list from the day before. The items that don't have lines through them? Decide if they really need doing. If they do, put them on today's list to start it out. Then continue to populate the list as you go through your day, making sure to cross out the items as you finish them -- that's the fun part.

10. Don't forget to consult your bedside list. Something woke you up? Make sure that gets taken care of the next day, first thing.

Remember: the book never leaves your desk. You'll need a phone number, or some note you jotted, at some point in the future. And it will be there. Any thoughts you have, bits of brilliance, all there.

If you HAVE to go over 2 pages, go over by 2 pages -- start every day with a fresh sheet. This works.

This is a recent one day in my notebook. It looks exactly like my brain.

I should add that I am a lefty and by nature a visual organizer. If something is in a file somewhere, I can't find it and I never remember that it even exists. It also means that my brain makes visual memories. I can remember that a scrap of information that I need or a quote i am looking for is on the left hand side of a page, or written in green ink, or whatever. Then it's just a question of going through the notebook and matching up my visual memory to what's in front of me to find what I need. I suspect other peoples' brains work differently. This free-form shizz handling style will evolve to reflect exactly the way you think, if you let it. I think that is why I resist things like Franklin Covey or those Day Runners or even Microsoft Outlooks attempts to organize my day (or suggestions to have one section of your noteb ook for house, one for work, one for phone numbers etc. I forget that it is there if it is not right in front of me.)

This system doesn't require any discipline at all, really -- because there are no lines to fill, no boxes to check, no categories to adhere to that do not make complete sense to you (and possibly you alone).

You're welcome.

*except laundry. I still won't do my laundry. My friend Truly recently read a book about will power, and the central thought she took away is that we have a set amount of will power to apply to our lives, so if you spread it to o thin you wont get anythign done. ie, if you are trying to lose weight, and do laundry, and get your life organizede, something is gonna fall by the wayside. Laundry is my wayside. If I won the megamillions (if you havent heard, I did not) I'd hire a laundress or launderer straight away. That's the only personal staff I'd need beside a house cleaner every couple of weeks. I'd be a very down to earth megamillionaire.


  1. It's how I live.
    It's how I micromanage one very important CEO's life.
    Sometimes I switch up the notebook for kicks.
    I'm going on four years of pages, of history - it never fails me.


  2. i need to try this. thanks. i write stuff on odd bits of paper then spend forever wondering where they went/trying to find them...donna

  3. Blackbird! The fact that you have evolved the same system makes me doubly confident that this is the way, the truth etc. Your endorsement is gold. I need like a BLackbird seal on this... the way Good Housekeeping does?

    And Hi Donna! yes: try this, and glory in the beauty of never losing a single important note again. (The trick to not losing keys is to make 40 copies and stash them everywhere, in addition to one mason jar near the door. Then you can lose all your want and there will still be more.)

  4. Pamela... I have questions for your system. I hate changing, so I want to make sure this process would work for me before I leap.

    What do you do when something you want to note occurs to you outside of the bedroom or away from your work desk... like in the car, or at the grocery, or while cruising around the internet, or at a dinner?

    Do you use your system for both work and personal life? Is this book like a full life daily log?

    I currently use a spiral notebook and carry it with me everywhere. (I just bought a bunch of them!!) That way I can consult it whenever I need to and I can add to it whenever I need to. So it is all in one place and its with me.

    Please share your thoughts.

    Glencoe, IL

  5. Hi Sara! It sounds like you've worked out a good system for yourself. If you're not normally in one place -- desk bound -- the portable notebook should work fine. the problems that it would create for me are 1)I would end up putting things in different notebooks and never knowing where to find what I wrote 2) i'd forget to move my notebook to my new bag, thus creating problem number 1 3) I would doodle and rip out pages of a spiral notebook.

    I think part of the magic of the system -- again, for me -- is the permanence and just plain old niceness of a hard-bound blank notebook. It just feels more permanent, official... quality. It is fun to write in them. Feels grown up.

    Try your spiral notebooks for a while and see if the binding twists (I hate that) or you rip out a lot of pages. If that's the case, upgrade to a hardcover sketch book of whatever size works for you. Spend a little bit of money on it (not too much -- the bargain table at Barnes and Noble always has a good quality hard bound sketchbook for around $7... not big enough for my purposes. I need big so I am not tempted to cart it around, but that's exactly what you need.)

    If you want to really class up the joint, investigate Moleskine notebooks (prnounced mo-lay-skeeen-ay, apparently but everyone just calls them moeskines.) There are knock offs too. They cost anywhere from $12 to $32 depending on the size, but they are nicely made, fun to take out of your bag, and they just feel right. I think the aesthetics are important... that's what keeps me in line. It creates a bit of ceremony when you write something down, makes you pay attention. Does that make sense?

    Alternatively, consider a composition book -- a harder cover to protect the pages and hold its shape, and its harder to rip out pages, but almost as inexpensive as a spiral notebook. They come in fun patterns now if you go to Target or an office supply store, and there is a a place on the cover to note the date. I used composition books when I was reporting (because of the ripping out problem I had) and they worked well. They line up nicely on a book shelf, too.
    Let me know how the spiral thing works for you. I'd definitely try to keep it all in one notebook, and for that purpose I'd want something hardbound (for looks, durability, and sense of permanence).

    But to answer your question: I recently scrawled out a few things to do on a magazine subscription card I had handy when I was out, and when I came inside I put it in my desk notebook. So my sustem isn't perfect, but it works! I also have little post it notes that help my extremely bad short term memory -- when I have to remember to call or email someone in the next five minutes or so, I write a post it note and stick it on my computer screen.

  6. And: yes I use it for my personal life.

    I also have a monthly calendar -- I can see the whole month at once... out of sight out of mind, so I have to see it all at once.

    That plus the post its and I'm pretty well set. But I am pretty desk bound (despite working at home)./