Category Archives: Organization

Life Well-Lived

I just read another Litemind post, which I quoted last time in my post about expertise and problem solving. I hate to post negative comments about other people’s ideas, but this most recent Litemind post really made me mad. The post, by Mark Foo,  starts off completely wrong, suggesting that you “keep in mind the following 50 tips” to streamline your life.

Um. . . 50?

Worse, Foo’s 50 tips consist of things we all know we should do–schedule preventative doctor’s appointments, throw out old clothes, drink lots of water, organize our photos. But is a list of 50 things that we should do (and that there’s almost no way we actually doing) the way to a happier, healthier life?

Maybe the post made me mad because I have worked so hard to get myself out of this kind of mindset–I am trying to truly understand and believe that happiness does not equal checking every single item off of my to-do list.

Au contraire. The only person I know who tracks the amount of water she drinks per day is my 85 year-old grandmother. I’m not trying to imply that her life is empty–she has a very busy social and volunteering schedule. However, I sincerely doubt she kept track of glasses per day when she was in the thick of raising 11 children.

Is organizing your photos a key to an enjoyable life? Well, for some people, yes. I know people who derive a great deal of pleasure from scrapbooking. And for some, showing people photographs is a frequent part of their social activity. I enjoy a well-curated photo album myself. But for a lot of other people, unorganized photos make them feel vaguely guilty–and if they chucked the guilt, the chaotic photos would have no negative effect on their lives whatsoever. After all, would I have a picture from the 1970s of the Future Mister Doctor’s parents dressed in ridiculous outfits on my refrigerator right now if the Dilworths kept their photos organized? No, I would not. I would have looked at the photo once and forgotten about it, instead of discovering it in a messy pile on the coffee table one day and deciding to put it on display.

My uncle once gave me a Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul anthology, and it was mostly cr–well, it was mostly not useful for the doctor or the future doctor. However, one piece of advice in it stuck with me . . . ha! I just found it on . . .the quoted advice is actually from Reader’s Digest. I’m really digging into the non-academic stuff today!

Anyway, this advice was from someone named Nardi Reeder Campion’s Auntie Grace, who developed a short checklist of six things to do every day:

  1. something for someone else
  2. something for herself
  3. something she didn’t want to do but needed doing
  4. a physical exercise
  5. a mental exercise
  6. an original prayer that always included counting her blessings

Now, this advice, I still think, is quite excellent. First of all, it’s manageable . . . only six, and some of them, you could probably combine. (You could cultivate gratitude in yoga class, for example. Or you could talk on the phone while washing dishes. Maybe the thing that needs doing is the dissertation, which surely counts as mental exercise.)

Anyway, I like this advice for dissertators because it focuses on balance–it asks you to do a little bit for your happiness, mental acuity, and physical health every day. And it asks you to be social! You and your book are not the center of the universe, and that’s why something for someone else tops the list. And yet, this list doesn’t ask you to be a selfless saint.  And that thing that “needs doing” could be organizing photos–but it’s only one reprehensible task, which is then offset by that thing you do for no other purpose that your own pleasure.

Auntie Grace’s checklist is still a pretty tall order–I haven’t done half of these things yet today. But I like how unquantified it is, those activities don’t have to be monumental in scale.  If I do some sit-ups and make dinner for the Future Mister Doctor, and take one moment to be happy with what I’ve accomplished instead of worrying about making preventative doctor’s appointments, I’ll consider the day a success.



This morning, while searching for a file on my computer, I congratulated myself on having a good naming system.

My research involves a lot of small articles and sound clips–I took notes on over 100 items per chapter. Each item (and my notes on it) is saved in separate file, each looking something like this: “2009.07.27 The Title of the Article.” Each chapters files are in a separate folder.

Maybe a lot of people out there organize their files in this way, but I’ve noticed that many people use underscores (_) instead of spaces in document titles, and many avoid punctuation. I’m pretty sure some of my students didn’t think you could use periods in file names.

The reason I use dots to write dates in year-month-day order is so that I can arrange a folder alphabetically and everything will line up perfectly chronologically. If the month was listed first, everything in January would line up together, regardless of year. That’s also why I type “07” instead of “7” for the month–so that October, November, & December don’t mess up my ordering. One could also use this system for drafts of chapters, and always know which is the most recent. I date photo files this way too (because I always want to know when a picture was taken).

I can imagine other equally good systems, but it’s important for anyone, regardless of occupation, to have consistent file-naming practices. Once you get in the habit, it doesn’t take more than a few seconds to title something–and it saves countless moments of frustration later on.