As most people who have read this blog from time to time already know, I’m big on time management techniques, various options for to-do lists and tracking tasks. I like to set ambitious annual goals, and then monitor them throughout the year. Some years turn out better than others. Whereas many people set resolutions and do nothing about them after the first day, I’m pretty committed to most of mine, even if other things get in the way. Having a to-do list is no substitute for having a life, so I try not to remain a slave to the process.
But I do see certain patterns in my successes and failures. Sometimes it is that I am being way too ambitious with my yearly goals. Or that I wasn’t narrowing it down from my master list to just what I should focus on in shorter bursts. Or that larger projects made it seem like there was no progress when, in fact, I was still whittling away at the sub-elements.
Or, as was more often the case, I was being way too harsh on my lack of large-scale progress and not celebrating the wins enough before moving on to what was left on the list.
Yet one pattern is not only obvious as an obstacle in implementation, it also affects my morale and motivation.
I call it my domino problem
On a grand scale, it initially looks no different than a large project with many small moving parts. Some of them you have to do before you do the rest. A GANTT chart can help show interdependencies on a project, and for simple projects in a company, for example, it makes it clear that you need input from the designers before you can do marketing, and you have to finalize the design before moving on to implementation. But the real trick is not only to see the obvious progression from A to B to C to D, but also to realize that D needs C to finish before it can start, which might require B and A to finish even earlier. It’s working backward from something big to identify what has to be done before the other pieces can move forward.
For me, I’ll walk you through the mechanics of a recent challenge, but it is the type of challenge I see regularly.
It was simple, I wanted to clean up the garage. If we look at some of the sub-pieces, we start to see the interdependency with other stuff.
We have bicycles and scooters. In the past, I would mount them on the wall in the winter, and had a shelving and bracket system setup to hold them. Now, they go to the shed. This means that in the fall, I have to take everything out of the shed to get the snowblower out, preferably at the same time that I’m swapping winter tires so the summer ones can be stored there too. And then put the bikes in last. But that also means I have to have the snow tires swapped over to “finalize the storage” — not just move them around but to actually schedule the tire swap. Plus, there are a few other things from the backyard that get put in the same shed for the winter. Relatively normal, right?
Except I also have a bunch of tools that weren’t very well sorted in the garage. And the crappy DIY shelving I had up for the bikes was not what I needed for storing stuff when the bikes were gone. A couple of years ago, we bought some simple metal shelving to go in the same space instead. Which meant ripping all the old stuff out and getting rid of it. Some of it through buy nothing sites, some through the garbage. Some of it went to a friend who does a bunch of woodworking and carpentry projects (I’m sure his wife was THRILLED to have a load of wood to add to their house, although he has a full separate shed and working garage area to keep it in).
Sorting the tools also meant finding loose collections around the house where I had an extra screwdriver or two upstairs or downstairs and moving them all together into the garage.
I also have my telescope storage cabinet. With a lot of the smaller stuff stored temporarily in the basement so I could sort through accessories as part of 2 or 3 other small projects. But if I was cleaning up the garage, I had to find a good spot for the cabinet AND whether there were any “overflow” requirements for it. What did I have room for or not?
So I cleaned up all my telescope accessories. Which, of course, were in the basement with a bunch of other stuff I’ve been working on sorting to clean up the basement. And, of course, as I’m sorting through that stuff, it doesn’t make any sense to just move the extra stuff around when what I really want is to touch-and-decide-once. So I started the larger sort of electronic stuff that I was planning to weed this winter. A bunch of e-waste, much of which Andrea is offering for free on FB groups. Always a bit warming to see something go to someone else who might have a use for it, rather than it going to the landfill or melt-down recyclers.
The basement deadline
For the basement, I gave myself a deadline of sorts. It wasn’t a “date” per se, but rather that I couldn’t play with my new 3D printer until the basement was sorted and purged. Yet there are other dominoes in that too.
I have a TV in the basement, although I haven’t been running it for the last 2y, just using the one upstairs. I have a stand for it to sit on, that Andrea and Jacob assembled for me last winter, and I’ll be putting 2-3 old video game systems into the setup, along with a VCR (temporarily so I can copy over some personal videos) and a Blu-Ray DVD player (because I have a crapload of DVDs, already sorted btw).
I’ve sorted the various video game systems into different bins, but I know I have too many video cables left over from purchases, and I can easily purge most of it. Except I don’t know which ones until I get everything set up at the same time. As I’ve been doing the purge of the first round of e-waste, I already struggled with keyboards and dongles and mice, oh my, where I would say, “Okay, let’s get rid of that!” only to figure out a day or even an hour later that I needed the part to see if something else worked. That problem has been working overtime on video game stuff.
For the general e-purge, I had five or six extra plugs for PCs and monitors. Why? Cuz I probably ditched the old ones but didn’t discard the plugs since they are relatively interchangeable. Okay, so this time, I’ll keep a spare and ditch the other ones. Great. Decision made.
Then I go to move the TV from the stand and realize that the plug for it is NOT with it. And, oh look, it’s the same type I just purged. So I can use the simple backup one that I kept, and then have no backup, or go back and pull another one out of the recycle pile. Which is what I’ll do. But I want to get RID of the e-waste stuff already in my garage. Not so easy to do when you know that there are some things in there that you MIGHT need to pull back in the next couple of weeks. Note that I am not talking about a continued hoarding problem, I mean that I decided to keep the TV, but accidentally purged a plug. Oops. When I’m fully done, everything not connected can GO GO GO, but for now, it has to accumulate in the garage.
In the same area of e-waste, I came across an accessory called a ZIP drive. Before there were easy USB drives and sticks, there was this drive called a ZIP drive that takes what are essentially rewritable large-capacity floppy disks. Well, they’re not floppy like the original 5.25″ ones, more like the 3.5″ harder plastic, but you get the idea. I have a bunch. With data on them from almost 25 years ago. Do I need the drive? No. But I would like to pull the data off before I ditch the hardware and disks. What’s the problem? The port on it is a parallel port. Which of course my main PC and none of my laptops have. Nor any other active PC in the house. Sooooo, guess what I threw out in the e-waste pile in the garage? A parallel-to-USB converter which, of course, I decided that I would NEVER need, right? RIGHT? I got rid of my old parallel printer so why would I ever need the converter again? Oh, right. Cuz of the damn domino problem.
If I had done these dominoes first, I would have seen that I need that cable still. I can now go back to the boxes and try to flip through and hope the converter cable stands out from all other cables in the box that I’m getting rid of, or as it turns out, I might be able to use an old PC that I had given to Jacob long before his current laptops. It seems to have an active parallel printer port on the back. Maybe I can install the ZIP drive on it and get it working long enough to pull off the data? Which means connecting the PC to some sort of monitor, which I was ALREADY PLANNING TO PURGE, damn it.
Or I can just say, “Chances are, I have what I need, nothing to lose there, ditch it.” Not a very satisfying conclusion. I don’t like just deleting data without knowing what I’m deleting, I confess. I’ve spent hours reviewing a hard drive, thinking that I could just delete it all, only to find something that I wrote 10 years ago that isn’t backed up anywhere else that I want to keep. The proof that my instinct to review is often worth it to me. Do I need that old musing? Probably not. But I feel validated to have reviewed before purging, even in the end, the pickings are slim.
For my various laptops, I went through a whole bunch of plugins for the laptops as chargers. I know that I have ditched old laptops and NOT tossed the cables with it, so I wasn’t surprised to find extras. I was surprised to find one where NOTHING seems to fit it? And it’s a more recent laptop? Not sure what I did there to cause that SNAFU, unless there’s another box to go through that I haven’t tripped over yet.
But I paired the other chargers with other laptops, all good, good to go, ready to purge what remained. Until I realized that buried in one of the piles of chargers was one that actually fits a video game system. Over in the other bins in the back room of the basement. That I hadn’t sorted through yet in detail.
Cables that I need if I’m going to charge those other pieces.
Is EVERYTHING a damn domino? Or just a delay?
I also had a bunch of things to go on walls, which I already blogged about this month. That one was relatively “contained” in that we could blast through everything in the house that needed to be hung, decide what to keep and what to purge, and hire someone to hang everything. There weren’t many sub-dominoes, but we did have to go and buy a bunch of new frames so that everything COULD be hung. Plus a bulletin board and a whiteboard. Okay, a few little dominoes.
In my basement, in addition to having the TV set up with the older video game systems, I also want to have a crafting table with my 3D printer on it. I repurposed a desk, put the whiteboard above it, put the 3D printer on it so far, all good to go.
Well, okay. There’s a hole in my basement ceiling. We had the AC unit upgraded/fixed a few years ago, and in order to do that, they had to take out the old AC fluid line from inside the house to the outside. It has to be done or you can do some sort of environmental thing instead, which was more costly and more problematic. Okay, take out the hose, we said. Except the hose was a bit trapped in the ceiling that was put in when we had the basement finished. The young gun who was doing the AC had NO idea what he was doing on the ceiling, and didn’t want to risk cutting anywhere close to the line (a good plan), so he cut a hole in my ceiling about 6″ wide and about 15′ long. Right along a small ceiling bulkhead made of drywall. It looks like crap, but I’m the only one in the basement, so do I care?
Not really. I find I get a bit more dust from the laundry room (the other side of the nearby walls and visible through the gap in the ceiling), and it is probably a bit colder than it should be, although the hole is at the top of the wall where the heat rises. But it needs to get fixed. The same general contractor who hung all our pictures and paintings gave us a relatively inexpensive quote to fix it all, he thinks he can do it with one sheet of drywall, and it’ll take probably two mornings (one to remove and put up some options and a second the next day after some of the day 1 stuff dries).
Could I wait to do it? Well, it IS right above where the TV goes. And if I’m going to set all that stuff up, there’s not much point in then turning around and having to disconnect it all to get the work above it done. And my crafting table is near the end of it, it could possibly have stayed where it was, but I don’t relish the idea of drywall falling on my 3D printer. He’s going to seal the work area in plastic to try and keep all of the dust contained, but I don’t really want extra dust on those components either.
So I had to move everything away from the walls, move stuff around, push it to the other side of the room, etc. in order for him to do the work this past week. Then the weather hit and he couldn’t come. So he’s coming next week. Which is totally fine for that project, BUT under the heading of dominoes, it meant I couldn’t work on any of my other sorting and purging as I’ve taken up the sorting space with furniture. Temporarily, sure, but still in the way.
And I realized that before I finalize a whole bunch of other e-waste, I need the ceiling done so I can put my TV back where it should be, hook up all the video game systems to make sure I haven’t accidentally thrown away some cables I need, blah blah blah.
I’m trying REALLY hard not to think about whether I need a new TV downstairs. The one I have now is pretty small for the distance from the couch. I could replace it, it would be less than $1000, easy to do, and I could probably sell off the old one for a few dollars. There’s nothing wrong with it, it would work great as a wall-mount option for someone in a bedroom or den. Except. I realized too that if I was thinking of doing that, I would be perfectly fine with the TV from the living room which doesn’t always play nice with our Apple TV, XBox, VMedia, and DVD player for simple viewing (they all like slightly different dimensions). So should I replace THAT one instead of the basement one? On the positive side, I’ve mostly convinced myself that the TV size / replacement question is not a domino. I can replace that ANY time, there’s no particular sequencing required.
Motivation, momentum and morale
The real problem is with my motivation and momentum, and derived from that, my morale. It is REALLY hard to stay on task when you see somewhere between 50-60 moving pieces with a ton of little projects. If I’m honest with myself, it’s not a bunch of little projects, it’s one GIGANTIC one called GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER and be organized for once, and with the number of shelving units I have at the moment, there’s no reason for me not to be better organized.
I wish when I was done with the basement, I was actually done. There is a crafting closet upstairs, and it’s a relative disaster area. Jacob and I want to get into some game design this year, or rather we both want to do it, and I am deciding to move forward this year. Plus some other DIY projects, including getting the 3D printer involved in board game design.
Yet with all of the sub-elements of this big project, I’ve been working on it since last winter about this time. I thought I would be done in the summer, and then it pushed to the fall, and then into the winter. It’s so big and so many interconnected pieces, those f’ing dominoes, it’s hard to feel a sense of progress until it’s all done.
I started with cleaning up the garage, and it led to us putting decorations all over the house AND having my basement ceiling repaired. Just so I could complete the line of dominoes and make sure they’re all going to fall the way they need to for the last one to fall into place. This past week, life intervened for three different projects / events, and all of them threw the todo list and the schedule right out the window.
I feel like I’m twiddling my thumbs just when I’m ready to finish stuff off. I know that I’m close to 80% done, maybe more. That’s huge, right? But right now, all I can see are little piles of sorted dominoes that I don’t know where they go or which order they have to be done in yet. It’ll come, but it is really hard to stay focused or excited.