So I used to have a problem with shoes. Not a problem with owning them – although you could argue, at the point where I had twenty-odd pairs of converse sneakers, there was a problem there as well – but a problem storing them. I’d wear a pair of sneakers out for the day, shuck them off after arriving home and sitting on the couch, and then I’d forget to move them to the cramped box of shoes in my wardrobe after I finished watching TV or reading.
This cycle would continue over a week or two, until all twenty-odd pairs of sneakers were residing on my living room floor and I’d trip over them in the morning when I wandered to the couch with my coffee. It wasn’t terribly efficient, but it was the path of least resistance.
Two months back I acquired a shoe rack. It spent about twenty-four hours living in my wardrobe, which was not a good place for it, then migrated to the spot beside my bed where I’m most likely to get dressed in the morning. I haven’t left my shoes on the floor since. I get home, I shuck them off, and they’re either on the shoe rack immediately or they get moved there the moment I’m done with whatever urgent thing distracted me (usually, at this point, new episodes of Riverdale).
The thing is, I always knew what I had to do do – put my goddamn shoes away – but I’d never sat down to tackle the problem of why I wasn’t doing it until the middle of January in my 39th year on the planet.
And really, this is the core principle of every productivity system I’ve ever come across. I’ve spent a large chunk of this year talking to people about systems, from Accidental Creative to Bullet Journal to my ongoing obsession with tracking every aspect of my life with white boards and spreadsheets, but no-one I’ve talked to has ever sat down with a system and been unable to think of all the things that should go on their to-do list. They know what they’re meant to be doing, just like I knew that life would be immeasurably better if I put my shoes away every day instead of tripping over them while ferrying my morning coffee around.
A good productivity system isn’t about looking at what you’ve got to do and putting it on a to-do list, it’s about looking at how you’re going to do it and why you aren’t currently getting around to it. Sometimes the problem is process, sometimes it’s mental; more often than you’d like, it’s a combination of the two.
The problem with putting shoes away wasn’t the desire to do it – it was having a place for them go that made sense and fit with my lifestyle.
I’m basically spending 2017 looking at a bunch of problematic parts of my house that are just like my shoes. They were the January project, my desk became the February project, and March has become all about my kitchen where the places I stored things really failed to mesh with the way I’d actually cook.
The end result was a lot of cheese sandwiches and take-out orders, but a weekend spent hacking the shelf space and reorganising the pantry has made it a hell of a lot easier to convince myself I should cook things.