Don't Agonize, Organize!

It is best to do things systematically, since we are only human, and disorder is our worst enemy.

    Hesiod, Works and Days


Butfirst Syndrome

One of my clients sent this to me, and I thought you should be aware of this very serious condition, which may have a tremendous impact on your ability to keep commitments to yourself and others.

I'm writing you to let you know that I have recently been diagnosed with a very serious condition and there's no hope I will ever get over it. Some of your other clients may have it also. Check out the symptoms. It may be hereditary as well. The scientific world is frantically searching for a cure. This is an ailment many of us suffer from and may not as yet have been diagnosed. However, once your clients are aware of this, they may be able to discuss it with their loved ones and try to explain what really happened to them all those times they tried so hard to accomplish something and didn't.

It's called the "Butfirst Syndrome."

It's like when I decide to do the laundry, I start down the hall and notice the newspaper on the table. Okay, I'm going to do the laundry, Butfirst I'm going to read the paper. Then I notice the mail on the table. Okay, I'll just put the newspaper in the recycle stack, Butfirst I'll look through that pile of mail and see if there are any bills to be paid. Now where's the checkbook? Oops! There's the empty glass from yesterday on the coffee table. I'm going to look for that checkbook, Butfirst I need to put the glass in the dishwasher. I head for the kitchen, look out the window notice my poor flowers need a drink of water. I put the glass on the counter, and darn it, there's the remote for the TV on the kitchen counter. What's it doing here? I'll just put it away. Butfirst I need to water those plants. I head for door and - Aaaack! - step on the cat. The cat needs to be fed. Okay, I'll put that remote away and water the plants. Butfirst I need to feed the cat. At the end of day: The laundry isn't done, the newspapers are still on the floor, the glass is still not in the dishwasher, the bills are not paid, the checkbook is still missing, and the cat whizzed on the remote control. AND, when I try to figure out why nothing got done all day, I'm baffled, because I KNOW I WAS BUSY ALL DAY!

I realize this condition is serious.... and that I should get help... Butfirst, I think I'll read all my e-mail.

Prescription for Those Diagnosed with "Butfirst Syndrome"

If you suffer from Butfirst Syndrome, I offer some tools to help you stay on task. You have four possible choices with your commitments and activities. I call it the Four D's:

- Kathy Paauw

Kathy Paauw, This week's Guest Author

About the Author

Prior to starting her own company in 1995, Kathy Paauw spent 13 years in resource development (otherwise known as fund-raising) for non-profit educational and human service organizations. Her home base is in Redmond, Washington. In addition to running her own company, she is also a wife, mother, singer, and community volunteer for various organizations in the Puget Sound area. Kathy specializes in working with busy executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs who work in corporate office and/or home office environments. She serves individuals who are dedicated to moving their lives forward in powerful ways by helping them de-clutter their schedules, spaces, and minds. She guarantees to be able to teach you to "find ANYTHING in 5 seconds." Click here to Get Paauwerfully Organized, and don't miss Kathy's Tips and Tools page.


The history of the genesis or the old mythology repeats itself in the experience of every child. He too is a demon or god thrown into a particular chaos, where he strives ever to lead things from disorder into order.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Method of Nature,"   (1849).

In the process of living my life, I learn and I grow. My decision-making skills also grow and improve through experience and "learning opportunities." It has taken a lifetime, mine in particular, to learn the process by which I can take apparent chaos and make order of it. In the 1970's, IBM funded the research of Benoit Mandelbrot, and in his study of mathematics, he rediscovered and exanded upon the work of Gaston Julia. To put the essence of Mandelbrot's Fractal theory in plain english, he defined the nature of the relationship between chaos and order in mathematical terms (the same way Einstein's General and Special Relativity Theories defined the relationships existing between mass, space and time). Fractal's can be graphically represented - have a look at's Mandelbrot and Julia Set Explorer to see what I am referring to here. My point is, no matter how chaotic a situation may seem, be it in nature or in life, there is an order to it. It may be necessary to back quite a ways off before I can see the pattern, the order, but it is there.

Rather than letting things just happen and dealing with them in crisis mode, it is best to prepare and plan, wherever possible. Looking at or preparing for things from some distance can often provide a perspective that becomes useful in the midst of a difficult situation down the road.

Notes and checklists are good. I could spend a good deal of time listing all the things that need doing. I could spend the rest of the day doing the things on that list, and still at the end of the day feel unfulfilled. Why? Because I spent my time doing what was urgent, not what was important. Calendars and appointment books are an improvement. But they merely help me to block out bits of time to do stuff, not to decide whether it is more important to do this or that. What I need is something that helps me to organize and execute my activities around priorities, something that assists me in clarifying the values and comparing the relative worth of my activities.

What I need is not "time management" but self-management. I need to be focusing on preserving and enhancing relationships and upon accomplishing results rather than tasks. If I can do that, my actions and activities become a function of exercising my independent will, self-discipline, integrity and commitment in line with my values, rather than just responding in 'crisis mode' with impulsive and knee-jerk decisions. Seeking results through effective planning of my time gives meaning and context to my goals, schedules and, as a result, my life. Effective self-management aids me in the process of defining and refining my purpose.

There is a major difference between urgency and importance. Urgency presses me for a snap decision - it usually comes in the form of a matter that is plainly visible in most cases, and whatever it is insists on almost immediate action. The importance of a matter, on the other hand, has to do with longer-term results. My decision or action, when aligned with my values, may make a strong contribution to high-priority goals I have set. Between urgent / not urgent, important / unimportant, there are a combination of four possible categories. Some things are urgent and important: such as deadlines, crises, problems that require immediate attention. Then, there are things which are not urgent, but important: examples include, but are not limited to relationships, setting goals, creative recreation, preparation for and prevention of things that may become urgent and important. The third category is the urgent, but not important: examples are interruptions, unexpected but lengthy phone calls, or the last minute requirement of your time or substance for things other than life-and-death stuff. Last of all are those things that fall into the category of the not urgent and unimportant: I have more than my share of busy work, junk mail, and chatty phone calls.

I don't want to spend any time at all doing the not urgent and the unimportant. Yet, most days involve a bit of it. The trick must be to cut down on the volume of trivialities and mindlessness, to avoid as much of it as possible. The things which seem urgent but unimportant can consume a great deal of my time, too. Sometimes I will ask another person where something is, rather than looking for it myself, in order to save myself some time. But that creates a situation which can be urgent but unimportant for someone else - not a good idea, unless it can't be avoided. What I can't avoid at all is the urgent and important, but there are (hey, there must be!) effective ways to deal with immediate problems of an emergent nature. Careful consideration of choices within my value system is the foundation of good decision making. Where I want to spend most of my time is dealing with the not urgent items and activities that are, nonetheless, important.

If you haven't yet visited Kathy Paauw's Six Step Weekly Planner, let me once again recommend it. It encompasses the process by which I can effectively plan the use of my time during the week, and to help me to focus my best efforts in the most productive areas of that which is urgent / not urgent, important / unimportant. In brief outline, these six steps are to:

Just as in nature, there is order amidst the chaos of my life. I simply need to have the right tools, and look at it from the appropriate perspective, to make sense of it.



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