Stressed out? Empty your backpack

16 July 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s the middle of summer, so my schedule and appointments have been inconsistent and often interrupted by travel or distractions. My daily organizational systems can’t quite handle the spontaneity mixed with disjointed schoolwork brought on by summer vacation.

After completely forgetting about an important appointment a few days ago, I decided I needed to reëxamine my system.

My work schedule is particularly maddening: sometimes I work overnight shifts, sometimes I work all day, and sometimes I work late-night shifts four hours before working early-morning shifts. Trying to be alert enough to research doxastic justification for hours at a time is difficult. Add to this the fact that it’s summer (a time of incomparable seduction when it comes to idleness), and I end up frazzled.

Rather than try to force order on the world, then, I thought my way through the previous day and located a loophole in my daily habits: whenever I came home from work, meetings, or outings, I noticed that I would simply set my backpack down next to my apartment’s front door.

This caused problems.

1. On my way to work, I would look everywhere in my apartment for, say, my sunglasses. They were, of course, already in my backpack.

2. On my way to a meeting, I would leave the house confident that my notebook was already in my backpack. It was not.

3. After doing a day’s schoolwork at the library, I would leave my notes in my backpack. This included the notes in which I reminded myself what ancillary reading I had to do the following day. These notes were not heeded.

4. On a day trip to the Mississippi River, I brought in my backpack a large stack of padded envelopes for mailing some CDs. I did not intend to bring them, nor did I need them.

5. I lose approximately one pen every day—at the bottom of my backpack.

There was a simple solution.

I made myself the following promise: every time I get home, I will empty my backpack. This way, (1) I know where to find everything I want to take: in its dedicated location at home; (2) I won’t forget anything as a result of mistakenly thinking it’s already packed; (3) I can appropriately process any incoming information; (4) I use my backpack space efficiently; and (5) I don’t re-pack anything that is already packed.

The moral here, really, is that we should all periodically set aside some time to consider the systems we’re relying on and how they can be made simpler and more effective. While I do think many people could benefit from habitually emptying their backpacks, perhaps you can benefit from organizing your bookshelf by topic rather than by author, or by scheduling your workout before work instead of after. An inefficient system is certainly one of the worst consumers of one’s time.

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