This suggestion is not for everybody. There are many people who need to-do lists and other organizational methods to keep track of the many things going on in their lives.
For the rest of you (the “disorganized,” the anxious, the never-doing-things-quite-right) hear me out: What if your to-do list was the cause of your anxiety?
My whole life, I've been chastised by the “color-coded folders and perfect handwriting” types that I'm not “organized” enough. Even when I handled everything just fine, I was told I still somehow missed the mark and needed to use a different method. This philosophy was used to control me. Even when I was doing well, I wasn't perfect enough, and that messed with my head.
It wasn't until recently, when I realized just how little was needed in order to stay on the right path, that I reflected on my most successful times in life and how I handled those. After many years chasing down organizational systems in an effort to “properly” manage it all, it turned out that those systems were not what gave me success.
In fact, the stress of attempting to put everything into writing and prioritize and plan not only took up a lot of time, but it also consumed a metric shit-ton of mental energy. I'd spend more time and effort digging into and back out of my organizing funk than it would've taken to just go with the flow and do what I needed and wanted to do!
There's a dark side to compulsive organization, and I have a lot of pity for those who feel they have to keep everything in order to the nth degree. It can be a byproduct of heavy insecurity and a desire to appear to have everything together, while inside everything is falling apart. It can be a result of anxiety and trying to maintain control. It can be an insidious procrastination method in and of itself, disguised as competency. It can also be fun and harmless.
If you haven't read 30 Behaviors of Unstoppable People, please allow me to introduce you. I live by these 30 habits as much as possible, gradually incorporating more and more traits as the years pass. (It really is a process. I am still a long way from embodying all 30.)
The very first one is:
Don't think. You already know what you have to do, and you know how to do it. What's stopping you?" --Tim Grover
Rather than analyzing and thinking, act. Attuned to your senses,
and with complete trust in yourself, do what you instinctively feel
you should. As Oprah Winfrey has said, "Every right decision I
have ever made has come from my gut. Every wrong decision I've
made was the result of me not listening to the greater voice of myself."
The moment you start thinking, you've already lost. Thinking swiftly
pulls you out of the zone.
When were you the most successful (a relative term) in your life, and how did you act and plan to get things done?
For me, it was when I had no special system or even a planner. I kept all my papers in one binder and just went with the flow.
Trust yourself. If you're someone who can remember the important things (and most of us are), you are already as organized as you need to be.
As long as you know the date, the day of the week, and your time-sensitive deadlines, you are golden.
(A calendar you can write on can help with this.)
Trust that you always know exactly what you need to get done and by when you need to have it done. Don't you always know when you're procrastinating? Don't you always know when you have a spare minute and could knock out a quick task? Don't you always know when you're pushing yourself too hard to accomplish a goal that's too unrealistic? “Oh, I'm going to blow past that deadline. But what if I didn't?”
Don't torture yourself like that. Just make the deadlines you control realistic, take advantage of flexible time to do impulsively the things you're always intending to do “someday,” and give yourself the comfort and lack of pressure to act on the task that's bothering you the most while you're thinking about it. Imagine if you no longer had to worry about fruitlessly self-soothing. Imagine if you were completely confident in yourself and your mind and your memory. You can be. You just have to start.
If you're miserable and feel like you're in a pressure cooker and your day planner is never going to measure up, sometimes the best method is trusting yourself. Be confident that your instincts know what you should be doing and when you should be doing it, even if your tracking method looks like chicken scratch or it's all in your head. Give yourself the chance to be there for you.