Saturday, March 1, 2014

Erin the List Slayer

When I cannot bear outer pressures any more, I begin to put order in my belongings… As if unable to organize and control my life, I seek to exert this on the world of objects. - See more at:
When I cannot bear outer pressures any more, I begin to put order in my belongings… As if unable to organize and control my life, I seek to exert this on the world of objects. - See more at:

SCENE: Early morning in an office somewhere in Arlington, VA. We come upon Erin, seated at her desk beginning her day. It is eerily silent and dark; not all the lights have come on given the motion sensor lighting. Erin stares at her calendar and begins to prioritize her day. She looks up and sees, out of the corner of her eye, a shadow. She ignores it and goes back to making her daily to-do list and getting lost in prioritizing her day. The eerie quiet is broken by an unfamiliar voice. 

The Note-taker: Are you using the bullet journal method or a system of your own creation?

Erin: (Small startled scream. She turns to see a an older man, dressed in a trench coat and sitting in her cube mate's chair. He reminds her of a librarian.) Who are you? How did you get in here? And why do you care about my to-do list?

The Note-taker: How I got here is of no importance. You are the Chosen One, the one who can save us all from inefficiency and redundancy. You are the List Slayer!

Erin: Does Elvis talk to you? Does he tell you to do things? Do you see spots?*

The Note-taker: It is your destiny to be the List Slayer and I am your Note-taker. I am here to teach you the ancient ways of bulleted lists and color coding priorities. You can save the world.

Erin: I'm pretty certain I'm hallucinating. Or my coffee was spiked. No, I bet I'm being pranked. My friends always make fun of my lists and this is their little joke. That's how you got in here; they let you in.

The Note-taker: I am not a hallucination nor was your coffee spiked. This is not a prank; I don't even know any of your friends. I would hate to think that they make fun of your lists; what a travesty. I'm sure you didn't think that you would be charged with saving the world but save it you must. Out there is a world full of time thieves and interruptions and the demon of inefficiency and ineffective organizational systems. It is your job to right this wrong and restore order to the world.

Erin: I just really like crossing things off my list. I don't think that qualifies me for saving the world.

The Note-taker: Crossing things off your list might just save your life.


From these humble beginnings, a heroine for our time emerges, Erin the List Slayer. Each week, Erin has to accomplish some sort of outlandish list that may or may not include demons or vampires and saving the world. The Note-taker replaces the Watcher and maybe the demons are actually things like interruptions, change of plans, and wasted time. She could have a sidekick (I've always wanted a sidekick) or maybe her own version of the Scoobies. Maybe I have too much time on my hands (or have figured out my National Novel Writing Month idea for next year). Maybe this could be a new Joss Whedon show. Let's also hope that James Marsden is available.

I've been spending a lot of time this week thinking about being a hyper-planner and organizer. This all started two Sundays ago; I woke up before my alarm (which has been happening a lot lately) so I had extra time before I needed to leave for the museum. I'm the co-chair of a charity committee at work and we have a ton of stuff going on right now so I did the thing that I do best: I made 3 separate lists for each of the committee leads organizing or planning an upcoming event. I emailed the lists to the leads and then went about the rest of my day. I felt better as I left for the museum.

If I take a step back this all started several weeks ago when I took the StrengthsFinder assessment for a work event that took place this past Wednesday. The long and short of this assessment is that I'm an organizer, am empathetic, am responsible, I collect things, and I like learning. I know, it's all so shocking. Anyway, because everyone in my division has taken this assessment recently, we've all been discussing our results. And discussing them some more. Basically, I spend a portion of my day thinking and talking about all the things I can organize and how I have a hard time handling deviations from plans and that I feel unnecessarily responsible for everyone. It's like I live in lists and processes and babysit people when we go out. Occasionally my co-workers and friends make fun of these traits. I suspect they find this mostly endearing but I also feel like I annoy them. I guess that's fine because they annoy me sometimes too. (Make a plan! Make smart life choices - I'm not the boss of you!)

I was also co-facilitating a session on time management at the meeting this week. While I was prepping for the session, I made a list (ha) of things I do to keep organized at work. This is what it looked like:
  • Write things down - I have a paper to-do list at work and I write my notes during meeting instead of typing. This means I have to go back and review them before I take action on them.
  • Project pages on our internal network - good way to collaborate with others.
  • Google Docs/Drive - another good way to share and collaborate. I've been using it for so much lately but I feel like I know nothing. I did learn about starring documents this week and I'm super excited to start doing that.
  • Workflowy -  I use Workflowy (which now has an app) for brainstorming projects at work before I'm ready to share them with anyone. You can share the list or parts of it with others and mark things as complete which virtually crosses the item off the list. It's magical.
  • Toggl - This is how I track the hours I spend on projects. I have a lot of projects but it's easy to track time. I update it daily.
  • Color coding my calendars (I have three calendars at work). I use categories similar to what I have on Toggl to code different meetings and needs.
After making this list and thinking about the three emails I had sent, I had one of those moments when I thought, "Am I micromanaging these people and do I need a list intervention?"  Yes, they could have done this themselves but I don't know that they would have (and I don't mean that in a bad way). I love a list but not everyone does. It was as if some sort of list demon had possessed me for the extra half-hour I had in my morning. I have to plan things and it makes me uncomfortable when other people don't ESPECIALLY when I'm working with them or helping in any way. This is a problem, of course, since not every one is list driven and task-oriented. The world needs all kinds of people.

Self-reflection is an important part of life. As I continue on my journey as the leading lady of my own life, it's important to step back and reflect on what makes me who I am. Yes, I'm responsible and task-oriented. I'm also creative and like to think about things and learn new things. However, I have to remember that I am me and no one else is. I have to be able to let other people be in charge of their own projects and lives. I need to delegate and just enjoy (or not) whatever it is that people create and make happen. I am allowed to put the lists away every now and then. I am not responsible for everyone in the room. This is an incredibly hard statement to make and to follow.

And this is why I need Erin the List Slayer. While I let others do their thing (even if it makes me uncomfortable), she can save the world one faulty organizational system at a time.

Tattoo Image
Keep Calm
*Actual quote from the movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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