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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
The Refrigerator Is Where Lunch Lives (and is NOT Jeeves, Your Social Secretary)

Paper Doll's best friend called the other day, mopey and chagrined. I could year her planting a "Wow-I-Coulda-Had-A-V8!" slap on her forehead:

"I missed my friend D's daughter's wedding yesterday! I completely forgot. I was driving E. to a doctor's appointment, and as I passed the church, I saw the bride and groom exiting, passing through the crowd. I'm just sick about it!"

Of course, as a friend, I offered all possible succor. She had plenty of reasons to have been distracted. Her eldest daughter, just back from a semester abroad, was ill with a stomach bug. The younger one was, as noted, on the way to the doctor. My friend had been up late the prior night helping her elder son with schoolwork. And normally, had she not been doctor-bound, she wouldn't have even been taking time off from work. (And of course, would the mother of the bride really have wanted my dear friend carting in a germ factory?)

Yes, yes, my otherwise practically-perfect friend agreed, "but I'd forgotten the wedding altogether. I thought it was TODAY (Saturday) not yesterday (Friday)." She'd even arranged with the mother of the bride to bring the kids along, and convinced her sons they'd have fun. All along, she'd been thinking "Saturday".

Ouch. As loving a friend as I am, the professional organizer side got the better of me. What had she done, I asked, to try take note of, and then later, to remember the wedding date?

"I put the wedding invitation up on the refrigerator door!"

Oy. Well, no wonder. Just as socks mysteriously disappear in the dryer, anything remotely important posted on the front of the fridge becomes instantly invisible, like Wonder Woman's plane, until the day after it is actually needed. It's a law of physics. (Trust me. Would Paper Doll lie to you?) Putting something on the fridge to remind you to take care of it is only marginally better than asking your puppy to remind you to put the casserole in the oven. Well intended and charming, but not exactly efficient.

A wedding invitation, like a term paper assignment, or any other "do this" piece of paper doesn't represent just one task, but a series of tasks. When assigned a term paper, a student must brainstorm a topic, develop a bibliography, conduct research, create an outline, write a rough draft, and edit the paper. Indeed, the early realization of what tasks a piece of paper represents, and therefore comprehending the difference between tasks and projects, is a major key to time/task and paper management.

The problem, whether with fourth graders or so-called adults, is that too many of us put the reminder (assignment, invitation, etc.) somewhere visible in expectation it will tell us what we have to do...as if completing an assignment or attending a wedding (or preparing taxes, or going grocery shopping, or buying a house or planning for retirement) were one step on a To Do list.

Upon receiving the invitation, my pal had (at least) the following series of tasks to complete:
  1. Check her availability against her other already scheduled activities (i.e., check a calendar, detect conflicts, hope the calendar was accurate)
  2. RSVP to the wedding (i.e., mark the number attending, seal the envelope and actually remember to mail it!)
  3. Schedule the wedding on her calendar to prevent conflicts later on
  4. Find out at which stores the happy couple registered
  5. Purchase the gift and arrange for delivery (by the store, or by herself, in which case she needed to arrange for a safe place to store the gift and enable herself to remember to bring it to the ceremony or reception)
  6. Arrange for childcare (in this case, my friend's children were also invited, but assuredly sick kids would not have been the most welcome, or most obliging, of guests)
  7. Select an outfit and ensure that the elements were clean, pressed and ready to wear
  8. Plan time to complete all other tasks that would have gotten her to the wedding on time, hygienic and well-clothed
  9. Go to the wedding
Can anyone really imagine that posting a paper wedding invitation behind a refrigerator magnet amid the children's art and T-ball schedule and pizza delivery phone numbers would get all those tasks completed?

Paper Doll is no Superwoman (nor Wonder Woman, though things on my fridge do become invisible, too), even without kids. Plus, people expect near-perfection from professional organizers (just as they think bankers never mis-balance a checkbook and English teachers never say "further" when they should say "farther"). Thus, I need to have a carefully crafted system to make sure the papers in my life actually prompt me to perform the required tasks.

In fact, we ALL have to have a system, and the right system for Paper Doll might not be the right system for you. You've all heard me sing the praises of using a tickler file. Heck, this very page has a link to the little e-book I wrote to help people successfully use tickler files to keep things (like remembering to actually go to a wedding on the right day) from falling through the cracks.

But, of course, successfully using a tickler file does require that you are in the vicinity of your tickler file every day, and that you open it, preferably at least once per day. A To Do list demands the same sort of bare minimum effort on the part of the user.

A Post-It Note® across the car's ignition might remind you to get out of the car and go back inside for the cupcakes you're taking to the bake sale because you'll perform the task BEFORE putting the key in the ignition. However, the same ritual won't remind you to fill the gas tank, which you can't do until after starting the vehicle, because three seconds after you remove the note and insert your key in the ignition, your brain will have moved on to other tasks.

Entropy: 1; You: Nil.

Some people don't check their voicemail (or even use their phones) or their email (or even turn on their computers) every single day, so electronic reminders won't work for that subset of the population. They're often the ones who write notes to themselves, leaving floozies (Post-Its® and scribbled backs of envelopes) piled on the desk or taped to the bathroom mirror, or yes, affixed by magnetism to the refrigerator door...which they will then proceed to ignore, like parsley or wallpaper, until just after the notes might have done some good.

You need a system that will jump up and beat you around the head until you are 100% cognizant of what you're supposed to remember, know and do.

In the coming weeks, we're going to review tangible systems (like calendars and tickler files), audio options, digital reminders and a other nifty options to minimize the effects of forgetfulness. As for ditching the guilt about forgetting, just call your best friend. She loves you anyway.

posted on: 6/10/2008 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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