10/03/14 19:00:17

You Are A Mess! What Your Task Inbox Says About You

You use lists to get stuff done? You write stuff down carefully so you won’t forget it? Maybe you are into GTD® too? You know that stuff goes into lists and from lists stuff gets checked off and done? Then I’ve got something for you.

Let’s assume you are a GTD aficionado. You know that “stuff” flows in from pretty much everywhere into your “trusted system” to something called Inbox. This inbox needs to be processed regularly. To clear your mind, to clear your desk, to make yourself feel productive. It is best to process to 0.

Here’s the thing. When everything goes well, when we are at the top of our game it is really easy to process everything flows easily. We feel productive and confident of ourselves.

But as life is, things get messy sometimes. Say you’re in the middle of a project or your long-year girlfriend just split up, you moved into a new home, or a loved one died, or similar life-changing events. Those are all things that throw us off completely. In difficult times some things are more important than others and we naturally go into a mode where we focus on survival. Naturally our “trusted system” becomes less important and we neglect all the goodness it brings to our lives. An indicator is when there is an ever-increasing amount of unprocessed stuff in your inbox.
Maybe you own some shelves where you put stuff to be processed and they are a mess too. I saw some messy shelves yesterday, and honestly I didn’t find them messy at all, because there were two boards on the opposite side of a room. One side was neatly organized, the other side not so much.

"I’m a mess", she said. I couldn’t believe my ears. "Rare to meet people that are as organized as her", I thought to myself. The disorganization reminded me of my own inbox at the moment. I have about 50+ tasks that I have set for myself and just don’t process for the last two months. I just don’t care enough. Other things outside my inbox are so much more important and I rather work on that. My private life, work is going great, exercising and meditation, etc.
That gave me some thought. Am I messy? Is she messy? I’m not disorganized! Are you kidding? And she’s one of the most organized people I know. I look at her kitchen, for example, and am like: “let’s better not move stuff around here or hell breaks lose”.
The situation also reminded me of myself moving in to my new apartment. It took me about half a year to get back into my groove. There was so much stuff that was more important. I wish I had someone to help. Things probably would have gone quicker. But that’s just how life is. Life is fucking hard sometimes.

Are You a Mess Because Your Inbox Is a Mess?

Life is so hard that we can barely keep our system: afloat, atop, congruent, and consistent. We wish we could, but that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? During the hard times, things pile up. That’s natural. Don’t you think?
Now that you are aware that it’s hard to keep everything running in tough times: Can you imagine that other people know that too? Of course they do. Pretty much everybody has moved into a new place a couple of times in their life. How many people do you know who had enough energy to keep up with their normal life? So, how are you supposed to?

Which brings me straight to my point. What does a messy inbox say about you? I think it says “I am busy”; in all of its unfulfilled glory. It also says “I don’t have a plan right now”, “I’m a mess right now”. But it also says “I have something else to do”. When I look at a full inbox I might say: “what a full inbox that is”, but when I look closer at all the folders a particular person has created, categories, subcategories, etc.… A trusted system… Then I can tell you that this person is very well organized. He or she just can’t keep up at the moment, and that’s normal from time to time.

How to Become a Messy Person

Remains the question: how do you become a mess, if you so desire? Essentially that’s really easy. Just don’t organize stuff anymore. Let it pile up as much as it wants to. Never ever categorize and move stuff around. Just let it happen and sit and watch as more and more stuff piles up. After a certain period of time, other people will tell you that you don’t seem to be well organized. That is the point when you became a mess.

What differentiates “a messy person” from “an organized person” is that organizers organize. After much stuff has piled up, enough energy builds inside that causes stuff to get processed. Stuff gets processed to 0. If we’d just let it sit, we’d be called a mess, but since most of us don’t, we are not. Looking at a mess still doesn’t cause great feelings though, and there’s not much I can write for you to make that go away, but all I can say is that it’s natural from time to time to have a messy desk. Having a little bit of stress and discomfort is actually healthy (maybe you are the only person putting stress onto yourself?). Keeping a little bit of stress, just below the tipping point to distressed, exhausted, and ultimately the breakdown. Relax, it’s normal, get cracking!