Time to admit that setting deadlines based on numerical targets doesn’t really work for me…
(Shredded documents, #2571 – 2640 range, February 2016; recycled)
It’s getting down to the wire now in terms of meeting my goal of getting rid of 3,000 things by 2/25. I’ll be gone on the 23rd-25th, so I really only have less than a week to get rid of 360 more things. Complicating matters is the fact that I have gotten rid of most if not all of the easy stuff; another complication is that this is the busiest time of the year for me work-wise. How am I going to do this?
One distinct possibility, of course, is that I won’t; it will become simply another deadline that slips. But despite the obstacles, I’ve felt motivated to try.
I’ve made a lot of progress in the past week or so, focusing mainly on office stuff, which explains all the bags of shredded documents (#2,571 – 2,640 range; see pic above). More on that later on in this post.
Nevertheless, it is extremely unlikely that I will meet this deadline now, which has caused me to realize a more important thing about myself: that setting deadlines based on numerical targets doesn’t really work for me. I set them; I try to follow them; but I never meet them when it comes to my 1000 things projects. I’ve missed all three of my major deadlines, and I’ve pretty much missed every intermediate deadline I’ve set for myself as well. Why does this happen? Why don’t they work? What would work better instead?
One reason setting deadlines based on numerical targets hasn’t worked for me is that numerical targets are really not that motivating, even for someone like me who’s been using this counting approach in the first place. Numerical target deadlines are too abstract; ultimately, they conflict with some of my more important values such as thoughtfulness. It’s more important for me to get rid of 1000 things as thoughtfully as I can than it is to get rid of them by a certain date. The date itself is arbitrary; the meaning of the things is not.
So, for example, at the beginning of last week, I set a goal of getting rid of 45 things in one day (because that would get me to an even number, 2,600), by cleaning up the piles of papers in my office, going through my folders, and getting things more organized. I got rid of three things. What went wrong? Clearly I don’t care about the number 2,600. So my stated goal and my target led me astray.
What do I really care about? I care most about being able to find things in my office when I need to; I’d like to know where every item is, or at least know where to look to find it quickly. It bothers me when I find a folder or document and don’t really know where to put it, or when I think it belongs somewhere, but I don’t remember where. I would like to have things more organized than that; I would like to be able to find and file important papers and documents and folders quickly, but even after all the culling I’ve done in my office, I’m still not there yet. So that’s a more motivating goal than getting rid of 45 things. That’s a goal that can last beyond counting.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to give up counting yet; counting is still good for me, because it gives me a sense of the vast volume of stuff I’ve accumulated that has kept me from being where I want to be. But I think it’s a goal that eventually I can outgrow: there will be little or no need to count once everything I own has identifiable purpose or value. Conversely, one of the reasons that counting 1,000 things (or whatever the target number is) is helpful is that it provides a structure for getting to the point of knowing where or not something I own has purpose or value. And it is still motivating for me as a measure of progress — just not as a target.
In this regard, another recent insight that I’m finally putting to good use is the difference between an aspiration and a goal. I’ve aspired for some time — years really — to have my office be a place where I know where every item is, or at least know where to look to find it quickly. But, I recently realized, it has always remained an aspiration because I hadn’t really resolved to do what I needed to do: go through every file cabinet drawer, stack, and pile and systematically cull everything out that I could, and do a little organizing in the process. I’d been doing it selectively, but not comprehensively; in particular, I’d been skipping over the difficult places.
So, my new goal is this: to have my office be the first place in my home where I can say that everything I own or have there has identifiable purpose or value. Call it the proof of concept area if you will. I think this goal will help me move forward more effectively than a deadline based on a numerical target. It might also help me move forward in other rooms of the house. I can see myself working through this process spatially; since my home office is in an upper corner of my house, I can imagine myself moving spatially from room to room, next my bedroom and then the bathroom and then the music/exercise room and onward, sweeping through the entire second floor and then down to the first. Well, it’s fun to think about anyway. In practice I might find myself choosing the next easiest place next. And there are still a few stubborn nests to contend with in my office: the electronic stuff, the books, and especially the mementos. So I’m starting with the papers, and I’ve made a lot of progress — hence all the bags of shredded documents — and there really is an end in sight: three and a half more file cabinet drawers, three file holder racks, and three piles, and that’s it for the documents. It’s certainly a far cry from where I started. So reaching that goal is more important to me than reaching my 3,000 target by my previously set and admittedly arbitrary deadline.
The question still remains: by when? Although setting deadlines based on numerical targets hasn’t worked for me, maybe setting deadlines based on a desired goal will work better. So I think that will be my new target for February 23rd: finish the process of going through my papers. For me, that would be a very inspiring goal to reach…