Updated: Feb 16
This morning I stopped to pick up two items at Aldi's. (Yeah, Aldi's. I've become a fan!)
After mentally giving myself a twenty minute time limit to get in and out, an hour later I exited the grocery store with a bunch of necessities, plus two giant "desk blotter and note pad sets."
Now, did I NEED the desk blotter & note pad (DBNPS's)? No, I did not. Still, they called to me because they evoked the hypnotic allure of...BEING ORGANIZED!!
"Those of us accustomed to living with a cluttered mind, cluttered home, and cluttered schedule understand the magnetic pull that any object or service or system that just might help us 'get our life together' holds for us."
THE PERFECT SYSTEM -- DOES IT EVEN EXIST?
Of course, being around the professional ADHD support universe for a while now, I'm well aware of the peculiar lust for "the best organizing solution ever" that tends to plague our "tribe." In fact, I'd witnessed this phenomenon early on in my post-diagnosis journey, years before I became a coach.
EVEN SMALL DECISIONS CAN SEEM BIG FOR PEOPLE WITH ADHD
As one of seven participants in a six-week support group for adults with ADHD, I observed several members bombarding the leader with questions about formatting our simple homework assignment. We were asked to keep track on any one ADHD-related issue we chose to work on for the remaining weeks of group. This was to help us gain awareness of our behaviors over time.. We weren't asked to provide proof to the facilitator that we'd kept the log.
"Do you suggest a spiral notebook, or maybe a legal pad with binding?", one member blurted out with an anxious voice, clearly wanting to do the exercise perfectly
,"Can it I use a three-ring binder?," another person interrupted.
Yet another asked, "How about index cards?", and "If so, which size?
"With lines or without?" "Pen or pencil?" "Maybe a Sharpie?"
I'm exaggerating a little, but what struck me was that despite all the preliminary fuss about HOW to do the simple exercise, few of the participants followed through and actually DID it, particularly after the first week. (Did I do the assignment, you ask? Um, I think I did.)
ARE WE "ORGANIZING" TO AVOID FACING MORE IMPORTANT TASKS?
The obsession with the product or system one uses to organize something is a sneaky way many of us avoid facing the reality that something in our lives NEEDS TO BE CONTAINED. And yeah, that means we need to start doing something differently. Change is hard. For example, buying a cool leather bin to corral a growing pile of unpaid bills doesn't solve the real issue at hand. At some point, a good-enough decision needs to be made about which productivity and organizing system to use, and then commit to it and USE IT!!
SOMETIMES IT TAKES TRIAL AND ERROR TO FIND WHAT WORKS
Now, it is true that sometimes, after you've given an organizing product or system a reasonably fair trial, it's perfectly fine to remove this not-so-great solution from your life. Maybe you'll find a way to use it for something else, but it may be best to simply donate or discard that item.
No need keeping it around and feeling bad every time we look at that mini-drawer set or pencil sorter that we never really used. We can chalk up that purchase or time investment to an "experiment" and move on!
For example, that off-brand visual timer gadget you bought on Amazon that makes a distracting ticking sound ALL THE TIME and can't be adjusted.
It's okay. Feel free to cut your losses (or return it) and invest in something better. Even if it's got a thousand 5-star reviews and other customers "found the ticking sound relaxing"-- good for them, but it's a dealbreaker for you.
Trust yourself. Especially when you're dealing with the challenge of ADHD. Sometimes it takes a lot of experimentation before we hit upon something that works for us and our highly individual brain wiring.
DISORGANIZED PEOPLE OFTEN GRAVITATE TOWARD MERCHANDISE THAT MIGHT HELP 'MANAGE' US
So, when these cute desk blotter packages appeared on a shelf in Aldi's well-curated aisle of random-but-possibly-useful items, I was, of course, intrigued. There were maybe ten of these desk blotter pad sets and, without digging too deeply through the piles of merchandise, I discerned two variations of desk pad sets to choose from, with both options sporting different designs, colors, and printed boxes and checklists to help jumpstart a bright new era of getting things done. (Theoretically.)
I picked up one of the DBNPS's, taking in its various features: a large desk blotter pad, roughly 20"x 12", containing 40 sheets of paper, each page whimsically printed with designated areas to jot down ideas, to-do lists, one's Monday through Friday agenda items, fun categories, such as "Urgent (sort of)", inspirational sayings (e.g., "Yes You Can"), and random friendliness ("Hello"). The blocks and stripes of color indicating different days of the week also appealed to my need to visually differentiate one day's plan from the next. Nice!
Now, I'm no stranger to cutesy, colorful designs and fun sayings on journals, calendars, and sticker books to supposedly help people who purchase these items keep their lives on track. I assume the target demographic for these often way-overpriced, mix-and-match planning systems are teenagers and young adults who will likely spend more time adorning their calendars with 3-D stickers and sparkly gel markers than they'll spend planning in them.
IT'S LIKE A LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP THAT WE KEEP FALLING FOR
It's not just a kid thing, though. Many grown adults, with or without ADHD, gravitate toward the lure of the perfect (and visually striking) time-organizing system. If there's a calendar, mobile app, or smartwatch that REALLY will help me manage my life better, I'm interested, --tell me more. And, if this ultra-useful product is eye-pleasing with interesting visual nuances (e.g., varying fonts, colors, and patterns to distinguish between hours, days, months, types of events, levels of importance, etc.) -- well, that's even better. Whenever you can pair function AND style, I'd say that's a pretty good deal at any price!
With ADHD, though, especially if we've lived with our diagnosis for a while, we may have mixed feelings as we whip out our credit card or phone banking app to purchase some shiny new planning-thingamajig with lots of bells and whistles.
"Is this really going to work for me?", we wonder as a half-formed sense of deja vu comes over us. We think back to the numerous planners and productivity apps we've paid for, meticulously set up, enthused about for a week or so, and then, often without consciously noticing the thrill of novelty) had plateaued, we stopped using them. Sometimes, while sifting through a thick stack of scattered papers on the table, we'd catch a glimpse of some pricey calendar/bullet journal/day-designer we bought maybe two months ago. "Oh yeah," we'd sigh. "I should start using that again." But we don't. Instead, it gets shuffled around, moving from one pile to another, hiding underneath other stuff, until we throw it out maybe nine months from now when its printed dates are no longer valid.
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS DETAILS THAT MAY BORE THE NON-ADDICTED ORGANIZER
Which brings me back to the two DBNPS's I bought today. They're different than the planners of seasons past. Why? Well, for one thing, they don't have printed dates on them, thus they don't expire! Plus, they came with lots of options: the desktop pad with all the loose categories that were broad enough to provide general funnels for idea-capturing without being overly specific about which section to write things in. Another plus is the fact that, being a pad, if you mess up a sheet or no longer need it you just peel it off, throw it away, and there's a brand new one just like it underneath. But wait--there's more: Each set came with a colored theme-printed pad of letter-sized paper that can be used separately or in conjunction with the desk pad. And yet another selling point: each DBNPS contains seven small sticky-backed notepads, each with a different color, design, and pad shape. Kudos to whoever planned these planners!
Actually, none of the features I just mentioned would have enticed me to reach for my wallet if these desk blotter sets weren't bizarrely marked down to $1.49 each. That's why I bought two of them. One of each color-themed set, of course.
I drove home, put away the groceries, sat at the dining room table, pulled out the two DBNPS's, and tore off their cellophane wrapping.
Then I just stared at them for like 40 minutes, wondering what the heck to do with them.
I thought maybe I should go back to the store and buy the rest of them and give them to friends and clients as gifts. I sat there, staring into space, pondering the logistics of driving back to the store and buying the rest of them. Then I thought it might cost more to ship them to people than they're worth. (I talk myself out of nice gestures sometimes because I know how hard it is to just manage stuff I have to do.)
Then, after I decided which of the two sets I liked more, I obsessed about what to do with the other one. I tried placing it here, over there, under that thing, until I finally put it somewhere where I couldn't see it, so it wouldn't distract me.
HERE'S THE TAKEAWAY:
When I realized I'd gotten sidetracked and spent the past hour and a half thinking about these organizing sets, I couldn't help but notice the irony of wasting lots of time thinking about how to organize my organizing supplies. These way-underpriced time-management products were no bargain at all. And that's not counting the several hours it's taken me to write this blog about this topic.
The moral: Don't waste your time, money, and energy on things or ideas that won't do what you need them to do--learn to develop the habits and mindsets that will help you make the changes you desire. There's no magic organizing system out there that can improve upon YOU!