The Love-Hate Confessions of a Horizontal Organizer

or, the domino effect in action.

courtesy Jeffrey Pioquinto CC 90412460@N00

courtesy Jeffrey Pioquinto CC 90412460@N00

A few years ago, my wife and I replaced our antique brass bed with a new bed. That led to a minor redecorating of our bedroom, which led to a major effort to simplify life in our house. As parents of four, but on the verge of being empty nesters, we decided to reduce our furniture footprint, change our room use around, and redecorate our house.

After a few trips to Goodwill to donate furniture, we had a working kitchen with plenty of space for 3 chefs at a time, a home office tucked away to one side, and an island for casual eating for 3. The family room acquired a new media center, much smaller than the previous one. The built-in book shelves were cleaned up, organized, and looked great. Free standing bookshelves were rearranged and relocated. New furniture was chosen and delivered to create a simple, clean look. The original dining room – our computer room and my office for 9 years – was returned to a dining room furnished with art from several Charleston trips. One of the front bedrooms – our daughter’s – became known as the Disney Princess room, decorated with Disney art and a Lego Disney Castle, all just waiting for our three granddaughters to visit. The other front bedroom became a mini-den, with two recliners and a small table with a large monitor for a temporary-as-neededed workstation. The entire downstairs ceilings were stripped of that awful popcorn ceiling and painted. All of the downstairs rooms were painted in shades of grey. My office was relocated upstairs to what was originally a bedroom for two of our sons, and also fulfills a guest bedroom role.

Therein lies the problem.

I’m a reader, researcher, writer, and editor for Auxano’s Vision Room. My title is Vision Room Curator, which is a really cool title, but functionally I read, research, and write – a lot of all three. Which involves books – lots of them (even in the digital reader age). And project files (I’m trying to go digital, but it’s taking awhile). More books, as in book towers – one for each year of SUMS Remix. And visual learning objects – lots of Disney items including a Sorcerer Mickey hat and Mickey hands; gas station memorabilia; Starbucks cups and barista training materials; pirate gear and props, etc. – all related to projects I’m currently working on. Then there’s special family photos, challenge coins and patches of my Air Force son’s career, and did I mention books?

My name is Bob, and I’m a horizontal organizer.

I like the things I am working on spread out on a surface in front of me, where they can beckon me to continue working on them. Efficiency experts and time management gurus live in a world of vertical file management and a digital, paperless world, but me – not so much.

As a horizontal organizer, I am at a situational disadvantage. The whole world is set up to help keep vertically organized people on top of things. On the other hand, all my work is on top of things – my desk(s), the tops of filing cabinets, bookshelves, the nearby futon (I’m getting better, Anita – I really am!), and the floor.

As you have no doubt heard, a messy desk spread thick with paper and stacked high with books is the sign of a genius at work.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

The relocation of my office from the main level of our home to the second floor has had many benefits, not the least of which is increased domestic tranquility – a phrase not exclusively limited to governmental issues by any means. Because of my tendencies towards horizontal organization – actually, more like a full-out embrace – my working office is out of sight, but not out of mind – the office must also remain a guest room (but give me a couple hours notice, please, to ahem – rearrange things).

I’m sure I’ve got some resources somewhere around here on how to accomplish both…

Now – where did I put that book?

Special thanks to my youngest son Aaron, who in his senior year in college pointed me to the book The Art of Procrastination, by John Perry. After he bought the book, read it, and wrote a paper on procrastination the day it was due, he gave it to me to read.

Through it, I was introduced to the concept of horizontal organization. I’m looking forward to finding out more about Structured Procrastination, To-Do Lists, Procrastination as Perfectionism, and other strategies for the serial procrastinator.

In the meantime…

Recently, I became aware of another book with a similar topic: Soon: An Overdue History of Procrastination, from Leonardo and Darwin to You and Me. Author Andrew Santella explores a diverse group of individuals, from Charles Darwin to Leonardo Da Vinci to Frank Lloyd Wright, to ask why so many of our greatest inventors, artists, and scientists have led double lives as committed procrastinators. Here’s a couple of quotes:

In the process of trying to avoid one task, I was in fact completing many other tasks. Even procrastinators can become task-oriented, when the task they are oriented to is procrastinating.

Procrastination is really a kind of time travel, an attempt to manipulate time by transferring activities from the concrete past to an abstract future.


Conquering Your To-Do List

Long to-do lists are guilt trips. The longer the list of unfinished items, the worse you feel about it. And at a certain point, you just stop looking at it because it makes you feel bad. Then you stress out and the whole thing turns into a big mess.     – Jason Fried, Rework

Lists and I have a love-hate relationship. I love to make them and I hate to get them done.

Before you write me off as a lazy sloth who never gets anything done, a little explanation. I live by my calendar – the one that resides on my laptop and magically updates itself on my mobile phone. All my work: regular daily duties, special projects (broken down by item), future projects, projects under development, projects that are just a few words – they are all on my calendar. That kind of list gets done.

It’s the other kind I’m talking about.

It’s possible to think of a calendar as a list, but I see lists in a different way. Lists are the different colored Post-It notes affixed to various surfaces of my workspace. They are the legal pads with a line – or a page – of notes about something I’m thinking about or working on. The very important lists are those that have made it to journal stage – a protracted, in-depth series of thoughts, actions, and ideas bound between two pieces of cardboard.

No matter what you call them, I suppose they are all lists of some sort.

With all these lists occupying space, it’s easy to fall into the trap described by Jason Fried above. His solution?

Whenever you can, divide problems into smaller and smaller pieces until you’re able to deal with them completely and quickly. Simply rearranging your tasks this way can have an amazing impact on your productivity and motivation.

Now we’re on to something! Instead of a list with 100 items on it, I can have 10 lists of 10 items each. The intent is that you can quickly move through the list and then toss it when it’s done.

Fried acknowledges that you still have the same amount of stuff left to do. But the smaller picture of a list with 10 items gives you satisfaction, motivation, and progress.

And that gives you a Done list.

Isn’t that your goal?

inspired by and adapted from Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson