I grew up with a mother that I affectionately referred to as a “neat freak.” Mom always wanted everything “just so” in the house, and if things were not done her way, it drove her nuts, and then she drove us nuts. Imagine my surprise when I entered adulthood and began living with other adults, and was told that I was a neat freak.
At first, when I was accused of this, I laughed it off thinking that the claims were exaggerated. But now, probably a decade later, and after having been told by multiple people, I’ve come to accept the title.
In truth, my obsession isn’t so much with neatness as it is with efficiency. You see, I do not handle stress well. I never have. For all intents and purposes, I had a pretty stress free life before entering the workforce. School was never challenging for me, and I had very little other responsibility. Upon leaving school and becoming an adult, the responsibilities of adulthood, and the much more challenging workforce weighed on me. All of a sudden, I had much more to do, and less time to do it in.
My coping mechanism became looking for efficiency. I read about every productivity method under the sun from David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, to the Pomodoro technique. Eventually, I developed my own style that works for me and borrowed from many others. I noticed that I was much less stressed when there was a clear plan of what had to be done when. No longer could I do what I did in school and procrastinate until the day before a deadline. Instead, I needed rigour and scheduling, otherwise I panicked.
My primary form of procrastination became doing more planning. At first I fought this. Now, I try to accept it. I tell myself that if I’ve lost myself to procrastination, it’s because I’m not in the right state of mind to do real work, and if I’m not in the state of mind of doing real work, then I need to clear my mind of all other distractions. For me, the best way to accomplish this is to get everything out of my head and into a plan.
One day, maybe I’ll try and write out my productivity method for you. Then again, maybe not. What I’ve learned from spending so many hours reading about productivity and efficiency is that no system can be used wholesale by anyone. This is why the self and help and productivity industry is in such a boom. Everyone is looking for the system they can adopt wholesale, and be done. And yet, every time you try one, you think, “It’s close, but it’s not quite right. Maybe this next one will be the right one.” And so, you hop from method to method, and before you know it, you’ve spent countless hours of your life looking to be more efficient. When you think about it, it’s pretty wasteful. For that reason, I hesitate to post my own productivity method online.
On the flip side, I probably never would have arrived at my own method if I hadn’t looked at all these other methods. So, if you approach these as inspiration rather than systems to adopt wholesale, spending time with them can be rewarding.
At the end of the day, however, the goal is the same: happiness. Productivity for productivity’s sake is useless. Worse, productivity for the sake of just getting more stuff done is even worse. Slightly better is using productivity to get important things done. However, the best goal is using productivity and planning methods to achieve a calm state of mind, a focus on the present, and a deeper happiness.