How I became undisorganised
Updated: Mar 12, 2020
If someone had told me in 2013 that this is what my future desk would look like, I would not be converted into believing in premonitions.
Organisation, it has to be said, is not one of my strong points. This is not the most surprising sentence to be typed out from the fingertips of a musician. Ten years ago, family members, friends, tutors and all sorts of other people despaired of my total inability to keep track of even the most trivial things, like which day of the week it was, or where I might find my National Insurance number.
Eventually, I completely gave up with trying to organise myself, and so did everybody else. It was taken as a given that my brain simply wasn't designed with an internal filing system or sense of chronology, and it followed that any living space or work space I inhabited was built on a similar system of abstract connections.
The thing is, one of my greatest ambitions was to become an organised person. This may seem like an unusual ambition but, starting from a level of ineptitude that left people incredulous, it would be the epitome of success if I ever achieved it. In fact, I knew I couldn't really become successful in any small way without a small degree of organisation. I saw my future self as a reasonably adept businessperson, but in 2013 I was as far from that as it is possible to get. I was the sort of chap who missed the last train back and instead had to cycle 25 miles home. Twice.
The catalyst that began to change my life completely — and with progress that even a glacier would call 'enthusiastic' — was a book that my wife bought me, called The Organised Mind, by Daniel Levitin.
Usually, with information books, you read the start of each paragraph to get the gist, skim read some important-looking sections, make some mental notes and, two hours later, come out wiser and better-informed. Or, at least, that's what I would do nowadays. But you have to read this hefty book like you would a novel. It's brilliant.
The first thing I learned was that the organisational methods that had been forced on me didn't work for me because I didn't know how they worked. I couldn't replicate them without getting confused. But this book starts one step further back, and tells you how your brain processes information. So the systems you build up feel like your 'own', and its foundations are in tricking your brain into being organised. You try each method out, and the tricks you forget about (and perform unconsciously) are the ones that make you 'organised'; the methods you have to remember to do obviously don't work, so you find an alternative.
One of the points in this book was about the role of a CEO's personal assistant. A PA is there to prompt their very important boss that they need to head towards their next appointment or take a phone call. Otherwise, the CEO doesn't want to be interrupted by anything unless that other thing is more important. As you can't afford a PA and are in charge of your own life (and, unsurprisingly, are an extremely important person in your own life) you have to become a PA to yourself — or find a clever, technological solution. You don't want to have to think about all the things you need to be doing; you need only to concentrate on the job in hand, and move on to the next one as necessary. Successful task management does wonders for your concentration.
Implementing some of Levitin's ideas made my organisation noticably better within a week, and I was a considerably more functional person within a month. I still refer to his book on occasion.
The second change was initiated by meeting my minimalist friend, Steve Taylor. Steve plays the double bass. If you know a double bass player who is a minimalist, you have something to learn from him. He actually is an adept businessman, and has helped me considerably with my business strategies, as well as providing sources of musical inspiration and connecting me with people (his contact details will be at the end of this post, should you wish to investigate his talents further). But he also arranged a showing of a film called Minimalism, a brilliantly directed and beautifully shot film by Matt D'Avella.
In essence, the film describes that, if you divest of most of your belongings, the objects you decide to keep are obviously the ones that are important to you. Having less stuff also means everything becomes easier to find. You end up with more floor space because you've sold off all your storage units. And you spend less money because you no longer buy anything unnecessary.
Even though I loved the idea of a minimalistic life, it wasn't until my friend Rob (the fellow who also provided me with inspiration for Got Bits of Shell In It) bought me a book called Goodbye, Things, by Fumio Sasaki, that I actually bothered to commence meaningful minimisation. It's a rather sweet book, in that it's written extremely enthusiastically by someone who hasn't yet acquired the knack of self-editing, but it's also full of good ideas. It worked for me. I also found inspiration from the YouTube channel of the aforementioned Matt D'Avella. He makes every project a meaningful use of his talents, and his podcast, The Ground Up Show usually provides to be rather insightful.
So once you understand the ethos of Minimalism, you start to apply it to other areas of your life. You use of time much more carefully, for example, pruning away the tasks that you don't need to do, and not filling up spaces in your diary for the sake of finding something to do. I have made much more progress on my career because of this.
And so we come to the issue of keeping track of all this. I always used to keep a paper diary, which was extremely useful for a number of years. Then I realised how many repeat entries I had to make (a dozen weekly piano lessons being a prominent example) and how time-consuming it was to transfer them over. So I switched to my phone calendar instead, which not only allows me to automate this but — get this — has a setting to automatically put my phone on silent during the event. My phone never goes off when I'm with a client, at a gig, or in a meeting, so there are no unnecessary distractions.
Then I went one further, and turned off all the notifications except for the calendar. This means that my phone goes off only to tell me that I have half an hour (or some precalculated interval) to get to my next appointment. I can check for messages on the way, or at certain points in the day.
All of this still needs a little more refinement, but I've come a rather long way to being organised in a remarkably short amount of time. I expected myself to be proud of such achievements as 'never double-booking', but I'm not, really, because a) it's sort of a cultural expectation, and b) the solutions now seem so natural. I still make mistakes (obviously my natural stupidity is unavoidable), and I sometimes forget to call people back, or occasionally have to declare e-mail bankruptcy, often around November, when there are more people asking for my services than I can ever reply to if I am to actually do any work. Hopefully, this year, I'll be able to try out a new system to catch that, too.
The next step for me is to remove myself from Facebook. I appreciate that most people on the planet find it very useful; personally, I have never been much good at it. Keeping track of messages and chats and comments and so many forms of communication within just one platform is beyond the limits of my working memory. So it's got to go.
And, in one frustrated moment, I made a Facebook post about this. I told my friends I was going, and that I needed a way to keep in touch. Amazingly, I received e-mail addresses from dozens of people I've not spoken to in years. I'm thoroughly looking forward to catching up with them. Now I can even make the time to do it.
Things you probably don't need:
- A new phone. These days, all phones are amazing pieces of technology. Get a second-hand one and put an £8-per-month SIM in it.
- A car. If you think having a car brings you freedom, you've not tried living without one. Giving yourself the time to walk somewhere is freedom. So is being able to read a book on the train. Getting a lift to gigs is a brilliant opportunity for getting to know someone better (I offer petrol money to the driver, of course). If you do need to drive, I recommend hiring a car, which is always brand new and in immaculate condition.
- Paperwork. Almost all of it can be shredded and put in the rabbit cage if it's a year old. One folder will do for everything else, with a backup of duplicates in a different place for the really important stuff; a picture on your phone will do, but you can also give it to your mum to look after.
Things you do need:
- Two pairs of scissors (one for the kitchen drawer, one for the home office)
- A pen on every table, and a scrap notepad within reach. Just make sure you transfer the information to your calendar after the idea/phone call/flash of inspiration.
- A key hook by the front door. Make it automatic to put your keys on it as soon as you walk in. Also, if you need to take something with you when you leave, put it on the doormat. If you have to literally fall over it in order to leave your own home, you're likely to remember it.
I'm always interested in conversing about ways to make life easier, especially as a musician. If you'd like to join the conversation and support my musical endeavours, subscribe to my PATREON at www.patreon.com/charlieormrod.
Thanks for reading,
A note about Steve Taylor:
Steve Taylor is an entrepreneur devoted to having a lovely time -- and making sure you do the same, should you decide to work with him. With a focus on minimalism as the foundation of all his endeavors, his company, adomedia offers tailor-made digital consulting to transform and expand your business. His recent side project, Styled by Steve, does much the same with your wardrobe and lifestyle. For Steven, both your personal style and website are the windows through which the world sees you, and he takes pride in making sure you give them the best view possible. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org