Monday Musings: The 5 Ss--Systematize

Have you been following along? Have any of these posts spurred your thinking about the state of your quilting area (or other areas of your life) and what you may want to do differently?

This week, our "S" stands for systematize.

This one is tough for me only because of what I want my quilt life to be. I find myself resisting it a bit. So this post is longer than others as it's something I'm still working through myself.

You see, I keep my work life as highly systematized as possible. I live and breathe by my Outlook calendar, task list, Sharepoint task lists (with other staff), email organizational system, and synchronization with OneNote. My experience has been that the more systematized and organized I can keep everything I know I'll have to take care of, the better able I am to address those things that suddenly appear out of nowhere and demand immediate attention regardless of what else lurks on my task list. 

But as a reaction to that, I really, really want my quilt life to be as free-form as possible. Therapy, you might say. 

Still n' all, I believe it was that free-form approach in high gear these last couple of years that landed me where I am now: with a list of about 17 incomplete projects. If one wants to be free-form and still get stuff done, one probably needs to be more disciplined about it than I've been lately. There are people who aren't particularly bothered by UFOs. I'm someone, on the other hand, who really dislikes loose ends. I like to close my open loops, as David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, puts it. All those UFOs? They're open loops and therefore (again, paraphrased from Allen's book) dragging my mental energy away from being able to start and enjoy new projects. Somewhere, my mind is still working on all those UFOs, because they haven't been completed and knocked off my cognitive list. So, in order for me to feel more mentally free to be creative and experimental, I'm now refocusing on closing those open loops in as systematic a way as possible. I know myself, though--I'll also chafe under restrictions such as "Complete all my UFOs before starting any new projects," or whatever. I get ornery.

So, instead, I'm going to borrow a page from the book of Donna of She does monthly goals based on what she calls her "Short List." She has a handful of categories in which she chooses one project for each category to focus on that month--those categories reflect her goals for her own development as a quilt artist as well as what she wants to accomplish. So, for example, she may have categories such as, "Something Old," "Something New," "Painting," "Handwork," and "Abstract." However, she feels free to change her categories as needed to reflect changing goals; her only "rule" to herself is to keep the number of categories limited, so she's only looking at a small handful of achievable goals rather than a laundry list that she could never hope to accomplish.

For me, having "Something Old" and "Something New" standing side-by-side is very appealing. In other words, I could focus on moving one UFO through the finishing process at the same time as I'm having fun with a new project; the "feel-good" energy of knowing I'm completing a UFO would release me to more happily focus on the new project. My categories may end up also including something like "Craftsy class," "Hand-dyeing," or "Embroidery." I'm still pondering what categories would both help me knock some of these 17 incomplete projects off the list as well as move forward in my goals as a quilt artist, but not over-burdening myself with a list of to-dos I could never possibly get to-done.

In a word, I'm systematizing.

Different people will be successful with different types of systems.

My LifeTopix check-list for a UFO I need to complete; I'm planning to send that one out for quilting to get it off my list faster!

My LifeTopix check-list for a UFO I need to complete; I'm planning to send that one out for quilting to get it off my list faster!

  • Some people do very well with the "10 minutes a day" system--making sure they spend a few minutes every day making progress on projects, even if it's only 10 minutes. That feels doable to them; after all, can't you almost always find 10 minutes in your day? To be clear, that system doesn't seem to work well for me--it starts feeling like another obligation and I don't want my quilt-making to feel obligatory. However, that's me. You may want to try it out to see how it fits you. (Obviously, this is more a method than a system--you can use this method to achieve goals you've systematized in another way.)
  • Some people create check-lists for every project as they're starting it, with each step in the project noted clearly. Extend this into putting target dates for every check list and putting those dates on your task list or calendar, and you've created an extremely organized system. I have done some of this--I have a check list for every project in my LifeTopix app on my smart phone/ipad (see photo at left; my check list could be broken down even future and probably will be once that particular UFO does surface on my current list). I don't, however, have every step keyed to a particular day on my calendar. I may add that to my system when I start setting weekly goals in categories. Obviously, I may not always be able to get something done on the day I say I want to do it as schedules are often fungible, but having one step in front of me at a time would at least keep it on my radar. 
  • Some people do work from the beginning of a project straight through to the end, one project at a time, no variance. This is clearly the best way to make sure you finish projects, for obvious reasons. However, I personally prefer to have projects at different stages, or different types of projects, so I've got something I can work on regardless of how much time I have, or that use different types of mental energy--something I can work on when I'm feeling "in the zone" versus something I can work on when I can't formulate a concrete sentence. It's just unusual for me to have so many projects going at once!
  • Generally, everyone sets goals. You may just not do it consciously or in writing. But every thought of "I really want/need/should get this done," well, that's a goal. It does really, really help to write it down, and to be specific. Rather than, "Get Annie Unrein bag done" (sigh), I have on my list, "Complete step from lesson...X" in the Craftsy class, or "sew zippers on pockets," or whatever the next very concrete action item is. It's far less mentally overwhelming to look at a single action step rather than the whole project.
  • And, for me, posting it on my blog is my system for holding myself accountable. Y'all may not care a whit if I don't get something done that I said I was going to do, but having to publicly admit, "Nope--didn't get it done," makes me really want to get it done instead. More importantly, it just keeps it on my radar. Part of setting goals is figuring out the consequences of not attaining those goals, and how you can hold yourself accountable to your plan.

There are lots of people willing to tell you their system--and several who will even tell you their system will work best for everyone. But the reality is, it all depends on your own personality and what works best for you. Are there areas of your life in which you really feel on top of things? What do you do to stay that way? Take those habits and adapt them to your sewing room.

Do you already have systems in place? Are they working well for you? Do they need tweaking? Do you feel the need to set up some sort of system from scratch? What have you found works well for you, or what hasn't worked well for you, in the past?