I’ve been watching since the beginning of the year, I think — yes, in fact, my first sighting was Liz back on January 4 — as first one and then another of my blogging pals have been overtaken by the Getting Things Done virus sweeping the net. And every time I ran across it — somebody linking to 43 folders, somebody talking up Moleskine, somebody with a copy of GTD on her desk — every time I ran across it I’d feel this visceral yearning to know more.

I’ll admit this now: I’m an organization freak. I love folders, and boxes, and cubbyholes, and shelves, and labels, and so on. Hold Everything used to be my favorite catalog in the world (only recently replaced by Levenger’s). As folks who’ve been to any of my recent places of residence could tell you, I’m not the world’s greatest housekeeper, but what I lack in clean, I make up for in neat. I can’t abide clutter, and I can’t stand not knowing where everything in my life is. I’ve had a PDA since late 1998, and before that had a series of intricately organized day planners. And I’m completely dependent on these calendaring systems — if I don’t write it down, I simply won’t remember it. Period.

Despite all this, though, my life has this year spun completely out of control. I’m teaching a full load of courses (which is an admittedly cushy 2/2, but at a very, very handholdy college), I’ve got something on the order of 30 advisees, I’m first or second reader on (I think) 8 senior theses, and — and these are the things that are killing me — I’m the chair of the Media Studies Program (for which I led a self-study this year) and the chair of the faculty Executive Committee (which has me pulling my hair out on a regular basis).

Did I mention that I have a book manuscript due to the publisher at the end of this month? And that I’ve spent all year working on a second edited book project, the last pieces of which are also due to their publisher at the end of this month? And that I’ve still got that overdue article — now two and a half months overdue — hanging over my head?

I’ve spent every moment since September feeling as though I was forgetting something, as though there was some small but crucial task that I’d left undone, that was going to come back to haunt me. I cannot relax. My sleep alternates between total oblivion — less like sleep than like getting knocked out — and fitful. I dream about work nonstop. And no matter what I’m working on, I always feel like I ought to be doing something else.

And the funny thing is, everytime I stumbled across GTD this spring, I’d think, “man, when I’ve got some time, I really need to sit down and read that.”

I don’t have the time. But this week, after completely melting down in a whiny email exchange with an always supportive but in this case slightly taken aback mentor, I’ve decided that I don’t have time not to read it either. Because I think I’m taking years off my life with stress right now.

Updates soon, from a calmer me, I hope.


  1. Wow, and you ran a marathon, too!

    I was going to say, “I know exactly how you feel,” about feeling so overwhelmed with the responsibilities that fill up your life…but I don’t have anywhere near the number of things on my plate.

    Hang in there!

  2. I think the marathon was in some way an externalization of the mess in my head, a way to literalize (and thereby contain) my exhaustion.

    Have I ever mentioned that I gave blood the day of my dissertation defense? Same principle.

    Anyhow, I’m pretty convinced that, laid out, the details of anybody’s life would show similar kinds of chaos. The particulars might be different, but the end result is the same. The trick, I think, is in managing the chaos, something I’m not doing a terribly good job with of late.

  3. Don’t get your hopes up *too* high, though. I have found GTD helpful, but not life-changingly helpful. It can rock the worlds of those who dwell in chaos, but for the already-pretty-organized, it will just offer some helpful tweaks. So stay realistic.

    And I’m not just saying this because David Allen thinks that color-coding is stupid.

  4. Me too — color-coding is one of the main things that helps me keep my shit together to the extent that I do. David Allen thinks it’s just time-wasting, but it’s not my fault that color isn’t a cognitive organizing principle for him. Different strokes etc.

    Flylady is another example… I checked it/her out on LL’s recommendation, but I broke down on Step One: There is No Way In Hell I am going to clean the kitchen sink before going to bed. I’ll do it gladly at 5am (and often do), but by bedtime I can barely brush my teeth. Another regime that is critically unsuited to my special abilities and disabilities.

  5. Because my life is crazy with more projects on my “list” that I could possibly do, GTD worked for me. Like you, I didn’t have the time to read the book so I downloaded the audio book to my iPod and listened to it while waiting in airports.

    For me, it’s a new way of organizing, having the next action be what’s important to me.

  6. There was an article about GTD in the Atlantic a little while ago, and it piqued my curiosity enough to snag a copy and bring it home. I never quite got into it, but Theresa (who also uses her PDA I use, I dunno, shoes and food) has become a near-convert. For a certain kind of organization-craver, he speaks directly to the soul.

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