Organize Like Your Life Depends on It
Becoming intentional and cultivating a system of organization allowed me to become the husband, man, and paramedic I am today.
In the Spring of 2016, at 25 years old, I was 240 lbs, dating someone who was not the right fit for me, and full of anger. I thought I was angry at the world for some perceived injustice. I felt like “I’ve scarified a lot for my community and pissed because it’s not coming back around and the world really sucks.” I was a victim. I protested the reality that I was being driven away from aligning my values and action. This created a downward spiral to a depression that twisted inside of my chest. It felt like a cork screw churning in my chest, every day another twist, every day another weight on my back.
I was not dependable, didn’t follow through with things, and just responded to urgencies because I just tried to remember it all. I was out of control and could barely keep it together. I would lash out at every little thing and was not a pleasant person to be around. I just kept doing the same deleterious actions because the thought of change was too painful until changing was the only option. It took everything for me to keep it together.
I had to do something. I needed bandwidth to deal with my issues. I needed to cognitively offload life so I would hear what my soul was trying to tell me. I got really lucky because at the time I was driving around 4,000 miles a month for work, which I kind of disliked because I was in the car all the time, but I did like that I got to listen to audiobooks and podcast.
One of the first podcast I listened to was the EmCrit Podcast because I was also in Paramedic School and I was trying to become a better provider. I stumbled upon Scott Weingart’s podcast on Getting Shit Done, which began a process of organization that I depend on today. Soon after this, I discovered the Order of Man, which accelerated my growth. Order of Man spoke to my soul and was a huge step to be able to aligning my values and actions.
This system today is a bit of a jambalaya, a little bit of Getting Things Done, a little bit of The ONE Thing, mixed in with Deep Work and Digital Minimalism. I’ve added layers and picked things that work for me. My hope is you’re able to R & D (rip off and duplicate, thanks Second Shift!) pieces of this that will work for you.
Getting organized was not the only thing that I helped turn my life around. I began working out, seeing a counselor, broke up with my girlfriend, started eating right, and filling my cup first. Organizing my personal and professional life gave me the ability to deal with all these other things, which led me to radically increasing my productivity.
Becoming organized wasn’t just about being more productive. It literally allowed me to save myself from the impending implosion of my mental health.
I’ve linked to everything here to make it easier to find the resources, but have no disclosures. I receive no monetary gain from this post. This is not a post to get you to buy things. This post is to share the resources I find useful. I’ll actually advocate that you can get these books from your local library; which by the way I recently discovered and love how many resources I can utilize for ‘free’.
David Allen’s book is a why and how to be productive. GTD allows you to cognitively offload tasks into a trusted system. Doing so creates the room for you to be present and not worry about forgetting to pick up the milk from the grocery.
To summarize, you have two choices when a new thought comes into your head. Can I accomplish this right now in 2 minutes or less? If you can, do it. Do the task right then and there. Don’t waste your brain space on small things. If it takes more than 2 minutes or you can’t do it right away then inbox it.
David Allen advocates for utilizing file folders, but I’m a digital warrior. Read the first 1/3-1/2 of the book, learn how, why and what to inbox and you’ll have the majority of the material.
To start the process off, I got everything out of my head and onto paper and into a system. I brain dumped everything; I mean everything from groceries to life goals. I took a couple hours to get everything onto paper. And for the next few hours/days more task and ideas came up, but I just kept up and placed them into my inbox. I took the task from paper and put them into the electronic format.
Tasks go into my task management system and appointments go on my calendar. If I need to be somewhere or call someone at a specific time then it goes on the calendar. Other than that it goes into my task management software. Do not use your calendar to complete task. A calendar should be dedicated to being present at a certain time and place.
The goal is to get to your inbox to zero, meaning either everything has been delegated, accomplished, or assigned. Inbox zero comes from intentionalality, not answering your email during every ping. Actually you need to turn off your notifications to pretty much everything! To be more productive you need to be less accessible. More of this is covered in the book section.
Hands down this is simply an additional brain. I am able to set it and forget it! OmniFocus is a task management system. So you’re able to put actionable items into it and OmniFocus will act as another inbox that you can assign project, context, and due date to everything. You’re the boss of your choices until you hold yourself accountable by assigning a due date to all tasks you do.
The project groups task together to accomplish the project. You can create a sequential project which means that completing one task automatically starts the next task. The context allows you to remember to do something when you’re near someone or something. So, when you’re at Kroger you can find all of the task related to Kroger. The due date is most important. Assign a date and get it done! This keeps everything on track to accomplishing them. I do stray from the traditional GTD dogma and utilize the due date as a tickler sometimes, especially with long term things where I want to get them done, but aren’t important or urgent. I just keep it as a reminder to look at accomplishing it.
I was very intentional with all of the programs I chose because they all integrate together. I utilize Airmail because I BCC my OmniFocus inbox. So when I send an email, I don’t have to also remember to add it to OmniFocus, it just does it. OmniFocus is a really powerful program that I don’t use all its’ functions, but you can customize OmniFocus and integrate it with other programs like Zapier.
I utilize Drafts as a quick way to put things into my inbox while I’m on the go. This is pretty frictionless app that has seamless integration with many apps including OmniFocus.
This program is only available for Mac and iOS, but they just released a web version that allows you to utilize it on any device. OmniFocus has a pretty large upfront cost, but you can buy the Mac and iOS bundle with a onetime purchase. It was well worth the price.
GTD and OmniFocus are the ways to completing and remembering task. Creating space allows your head to think and soul to breathe that are built and supported by intentionally building a system. This works to be able to make sure you’re remembering everything. But you can’t just offload task to be able live life. The ability to produce products and services is what we’re compensated for. By being able to accomplish the right task you’re able to align your values and action that create the alignment your soul is seeking.
I’ll be honest I haven’t read the book just yet. My wife wanted to listen to a ONE Thing podcast episode. The podcast was on Hosting Your Own Goal Setting Retreat. I really enjoyed it. We were able to download the forms and go to work. You and your spouse can spend a few hours aligning yourselves so you can support each other’s growth and strengthening of your marriage.
The ONE Thing is about having clarity on what is the ONE Thing I want to accomplish today, this week, this month, this year. By focusing on The ONE Thing the steps necessary to obtaining your goals will come into focus.
For example let’s say you have a presentation you’re about to give at work. The deadline is coming and this is the most important thing to get accomplished. This would mean that everything else doesn’t get done until this is completed. So you shouldn’t be checking your email or working on developing different training until this is completed. To better focus you can utilize the Pomodoro Technique.
This is a time management technique. It’s a brute force accountability system. Basically you set a timer and complete one task during that time. Let’s say it’s that presentation you procrastinated on. For that one hour you’re only task is to complete the presentation. You keep working on the presentation until the timer goes off. Don’t check the time, just keep working until you complete that task or the timer goes off. To do this I utilize this timer.
Deep Work and Digital Minimalism-
Cal Newport’s books Deep Work and Digital Minimalism are both a why and how you can be more productive. Deep Work covers the topic of creating a routine to accomplish cognitively demanding tasks that will allow you to master complicated information while producing more results with less time. Deep Work gives tools like inboxing that allow you to dedicate time to being able to accomplish task. For two hours every morning I become completely unreachable so that I can accomplish dense tasks that require focus. Utilizing this principle from Deep Work gives me a competitive edge among other educators because I hone my craftsmanship and produce results in a shorter period of time making me more valuable. This also allows me more room to be able to focus on a complex problems and think through it without distractions. It’s almost like you’re giving room to your unconscious brain to whisper the solution that’s been in your face the whole time, but your brain was so pre-occupied that it couldn’t hear it.
Digital Minimalism was just released in 2019, but can’t recommend starting here strong enough. This builds upon the philosophy of Deep Work, but you can start here. This art form allows you to discover how technology influences your life and contributes to the overall anxiety of the world. Digital Minimalism explains how we can focus our attention and become present by utilizing technology in a strict fashion that enables us to become better, more productive people; while also allowing you to become a more complete person. Cal advocates for a 30 day challenge to strip all technology except the critical pieces of your professional life. I completed mine a few months ago and doing so allowed me to deal with some pent up anxiety. It made me calmer and more focused on people. I discovered what person I’d like to be. Digital Minimalism also introduced me to the F3 group. This group of men perpetually push each other to become better; better husbands, better fathers, better providers, better presiders, and better protectors.
Okay so how does this system look like on a daily basis? I come into work and inbox for about 30 minutes. I ensure there haven’t been any changes in programming that would affect scheduling for the day. I will then write out 30 min blocks of time on a note pad. I’ll fill in all the hard appointments that are on my calendar. I will then write the 2-3 items I want to get accomplished that day. These items come from OmniFocus. After that I fill in the rest of the time starting with the first item and working my way till every 30 min slot has a task assigned to it. I will utilize a 30 min block for inboxing right after lunch and at the end of the day. This is the time I can be interpreted and will answer emails and phone calls during that time. It’s an office hours for your professional life.
I will utilize about 2 hours in the morning to focus on dense things that require more focus. This is the time I have the most energy and bandwidth to accomplish necessary task. I’ll reserve the afternoon for meetings and conducting trainings.
I’m thankful for everything that happened to me and is a part of what makes me the man I am today, which is 40 lbs. lighter (and losing more weight) and married to a wonderful woman who loves, supports, and pushes me to be the husband she deserves.
I’d be lying to say that it’s all rainbows and sunshine now, it’s not. I still struggle with becoming a better provider and educator. I fight an internal battle with anxiety that makes me stay on top of it to be able to function. To handle my anxiety I need to consistently workout, read books and devotionals, meditate, eat right, and talk with my therapist. Cognitively off-loading the organization of task management in my life created space for me to grow as a person, paramedic, and husband. This is a chapter in my story.
Write your story. Let us know how you created bandwidth to become a better person and provider.
If you’re just beginning your journey that’s alright! It’s going to be unpleasant for a short period of time, but stick with it. You’re going to feel like your drowning for a brief period of time followed one of the most satisfying periods of your life. Read Digital Minimalism to create the space to hear yourself. Create the system that works for you.
-Adam LaChappelle (@vamedic on Twitter)
The master of disaster looking to practice good medicine in austere environments