July 1, 2007

Getting Organized for Mental Health

Edited 10-18-2009

Buona Sera.
Time to jump right in. The spacing in this article is annoying and I can't get it to do what I want, so we'll all have to deal with it.

Yours truly has to deal with depression. No, everybody gets the blues. I mean, as a diagnosed condition. (I went off the medication because I got fed up with it.) It's a struggle, and some days tend to be worse than others (obviously). Anyway, on those days, I have to go about my business on "autopilot". That's my term for doing things automatically, out of routine, just so I can function.

Have you ever seen that poster with a group of animals lounging around and the caption, "We gotta get organized"? That was my high school class motto. But it became more profound for me as time went on. Getting organized is not only a powerful stress buster, but an aid to relieving depression. And I'll take all of those that I can get.


One thing I have to say right now: This is for people that actually have the intelligence and integrity to do things for themselves. If you have to go crying to Mommy to do things for you, or someone else to hold your hand because you're incapable of living the basics of life, then fine, read and forget. But you won't have any sense of accomplishment because you did it yourself. Sorry, gang, laziness and selfishness are "buttons" of mine.


I put the alarm clock out of reach so I can't shut it off out of reflex, and have to get up. (It's a stress point to oversleep and be late for work or an appointment, yes?) Clothes are picked out and laid out the night before, the shower towel is hanging in its place and ready, breakfast is planned, meds and vitamins are in the day's container and handy — you get the idea.


OK, so I've shown you my basic plan for getting out and about. It centers on a basic routine that I can perform while still waking up.


"But what about things that change in the day, Uncle Bob?"


I'm glad you asked. We have things to do, people to see, tasks to accomplish, evidence to hide, birthday cards to send, whatever. Things feel like they're piling up and get overwhelming, and I have to resist the temptation to play games on the computer and let it all slide. Well, not so much now since I attained some degree of organization in my life. Wish I’d known this stuff years ago!


Let me interrupt myself a moment and say that I got a surprising bit of help out of the book How to Live the James Bond Lifestyle. I got it as a novelty item, and it turns out that it's a powerful self-help book. I took things from there, mixed it with my own so Paul Kyriazi won't recognize his own work. Hey, Paul! Want a cut of the profits from this post? If I ever get one red cent, I'll let you know.



First of all, you need some kind of work station to call your own. Even if it's a section of a desk (an entire desk, even a small one, would be better). Keep it clear from useless clutter and dedicate it to your goals, long and short term. It's your work station.



As for organizing details, you absolutely need a calendar. A portable one is important to have with you so you can make appointments "on the road" as well as one at your workstation. Every day, you need to make sure that they "agree" (my PDA "synchronizes" its own with the one on the computer). There is a portable option for Mozilla Sunbird so you can put it on your flash drive and take it with you if you want. Another computer calendar option is Google Calendar, so you can see it whenever you have Web access. If you're really into it, you can set up Sunbird to work with Google Calendar and other applications. I haven't bothered, though.


Your list of "tasks" gets the same treatment.


There are two approaches to handling information and details: Written and digital. Actually, a combination of the two is best. Some people use a paper and folio organizer system. These can get expensive, but have categories for everything. But they're bulky. And available to prying eyes if you set one down.



You see, I'm a strong proponent of the PDA, Personal Digital Assistant. No, not the twenty dollar one at Walley World, either. Those start out nicely, but break quickly. And I don't recommend spending five hundred on a super-high-tech system that "does it all". Mine is two hundred dollars, and that's a big expense for me (they go for less, but I wanted the color screen and music player). It has reminders (and alarms), address books (that can hold thousands of entries), calculators, the all-important calendar and more. It gets the information backed up on a bigger computer and/or a "card" that fits in a slot. It's got size going for it, easy to carry. Plus, security in case you lose it or set it down. Very convenient if you use it synchronized to a computer. Edit: It's getting worn out, and I'm going more toward the calendar sync system, it's available online, at work, at home.


Both paper and digital organizers have similar systems, so you do what's best for yourself. Even if it's a stack of junior sized legal pads. But the most important point, whatever system you use, is to get a system and be consistent. In one way or another, write it down. Whatever "it" is. So, make sure you have pens and pencils in a container at your workstation, even if you store them in a coffee cup. Moving up to an actual office-type pencil container feels kind of classy, so when you have a couple of dollars to spare, you may want to do that.

Special note: Write stuff down, again. Even if it is some kind of thought that is buzzing in your head like a trapped gnat. Little thoughts of things you want to do later, or look up, anything that distracts you and takes away your mental energy should be written down so it can be dealt with later. Then you can transfer it onto your "tasks" or "to do" list later on. That is,
anything that gets scratched out on a piece of paper, in a pocket notebook or on a napkin needs to be examined, put on the calendar(s) and lists. When it's safely recorded, discard the scrap so you don't wonder about it later and waste time finding out that yes, I did write it down after all.

Do you have all of your addresses and numbers for contacts in one place, or do you have to search for each number? Get them together and save the time and aggravation of doing a search. Sure, have divisions and categories for poker buddies, church guilds, business acquaintances, people that owe you money, whatever. But there's no good reason to have one list in the kitchen, another in the living room, still another under the bed, etc. Keep them together in a divider on your desk ("work station") or in your desk drawer. (If you have a sooper-sekrit list of your lovers, f'rinstance, you're on your own to hide it and keep track of it. But the PDA does have categories and privacy settings.)


One note about tasks: Have due dates. How often do things get done that don't have a due date? Not very often. Sure, some things have to be a bit vague (I'm working on a long-term project that gets done a little at a time, such as this article), but it's better to have some kind of accountability to yourself for the bulk of it.


"So what's the big deal? Why all the details?"


The details are what drag many of us down. I've had a sense of pride and accomplishment checking tasks off, or making correct appointments that I don't have to reschedule later because I forgot about a conflict, or forgot to go in the first place. No more panic about getting a payment in on time, either. It eases the mind.


For that matter, check out a "Bill Payer" system at your bank or Credit Union. That makes for a few less recurring checks to write, and you're more certain of getting things on time. Just check it each time a bill comes in, because those people get sneaky and change the due dates. Tricky weasels want those extra grotzits that they tack on if you're late... and I cut down on the stress by getting it right ahead of time. See how this organization stuff can work?


When you're organized, you don't waste time and energy getting frazzled and trying to get things together. Your new habit is checking the "books" for what's due for today or this week, and then going for it.This very article was on my "to-do" list for today. It was a busy weekend, but productive and things got done. They're off my mind.


You know, it's like something a stand-up comic said about spending money on off-brands: If I spend less on some stuff, I have more money to buy other stuff. Hey, if I spend less time getting prepared to do things, I have more time to actually do the things. And if I have less depression or aggravation over all, isn't that best of all?


Let's get organized. Hope this did you some good, class.

Added 12-23-2007: Very useful link here.


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