Herding Cats

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

A Susan Branch calendar had a quote I love: “I’m trying to arrange my life so I don’t even have to be present.”

Bingo! That’s what I keep aiming for. I’m looking for the auto-pilot method of work. If my systems are good enough— if I keep everything humming, if everything is filed, answered, acted upon, gathered, sorted, classified, organized and logged— won’t the magic happen whether I’m here or not?

Hmmmm. Probably not. Those of you waiting for an answer from me on a submission know the truth. Or those who expected a blog from me last week. Gulp. No auto-pilot blogs or proposal-reading to be had.

David Allen, the guru of productivity, says in his book, Getting Things Done, “It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control.” He talks about elevated levels of effectiveness and efficiency. Did you catch all those terms: function productively, clear head, relaxed control, effectiveness and efficiency? Can you see my hand waving madly in the air? I want what he’s having!

Want the truth? Organization makes my life so much better, but the process is like herding cats. I just get the herd moving in one direction when two or three meander off. Just when I feel like my systems are humming along, I find a hole in my management of information or I find I’m memory-challenged in yet another area and need to develop a new tracking system.

I want to extract any sense of guilt from our discussion of organization. [guilt off] Developing and implementing your system of organization is an ongoing process. It takes time for a new skill to become a habit. Trial-and-error are part of the process. Have fun with it. Be creative. Look at it as challenge.

Rather than end on a positive note (that’s too easy), let’s talk about what not to do:

  • Don’t make yourself crazy trying to attain perfection. Do the best you can and savor the incremental improvements. Celebrate progress. Keep herding cats.
  • Don’t allow perfectionism to keep you from developing an interim solution. Maybe you can’t redesign your whole office at this time, but you can reorganize your file drawers.
  • Don’t be afraid to call in help. Professional organizers might be an excellent investment for a drowning writer. It’s a bottom-line decision. If a professional could find you extra hours to do your more lucrative job, it doesn’t make sense to do it yourself. If not a professional, maybe you have a friend who is a master of organization.
  • And as you get more organized and find extra hours in your day, don’t fill them all up with more work. We live in a culture that keeps trying to accomplish more with fewer people. We’re working harder and longer and saying yes to more projects than ever. Uber-productivity can become an idol in itself. Time and energy are finite. No matter how organized we become, we’ll still hit the wall when we’ve filled every nanosecond of our lives with work. We need to work smart and effectively, but unless we have time to live and dream, we’ll all shrivel. (And shriveled writers do not write good books.)

The nice thing about herding cats is that if we take the time to follow the occasional meanderer, we could just happen onto a great new discovery.