The fact Las Vegas exists is proof positive that no matter how much you believe you are skilled at playing poker, tossing dice, guessing where a ball will land on a wheel of numbers, or even knowing which side will show after flipping a coin, you are wrong. Wrong to the tune of $35 billion in 2012, which is the estimated total revenue generated by 461 casinos in the US . The house always wins – and if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be there! Statistically there will always be some winners that the casinos can show as role models, but the odds of YOU being that person are stunningly low. There is only one real winner in the gambling industry – and that’s the gambling industry.
Likewise, the fact that there are so many Life Coaches, Management Consultants, and general “Let Me Show You How To Be Fabulously Wonderful (for a fee)” folks out there is proof positive that no matter how much you believe you can control you life, you are wrong. Wrong to the tune of $11 billion dollars in 2008, which is the amount of money spent by Americans on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching and stress-management programs . The only winner in the self-improvement industry is the self-improvement industry.
According to Steve Salerno, the author of the splendid 2008 book Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, there’s a self-sustaining element based on the fact that “the most likely customers of self-help products are the same people who purchased similar products within the previous 18 months.” In other words, it’s not actually helping.
So let’s face it and admit to ourselves and the world that although we aspire to being super-organized, super-efficient, and razor-sharp in our thinking and execution of plans and programs, we’re basically messy slobs whose most organized closet is the one nailed shut so the crap doesn’t fall out of it. When Pink Floyd wrote the lines “plans that either come to naught, or half a page of scribbled line,”  they were being optimistic that someone would be inspired to actually pick up a pen! If any one of us were to write two lists headed “Things I Did” and “Things I’m Planning To Do,” I’m betting that the latter would be the longer.
There should be no shame in being disorganized and scatterbrained. In their book, The Perfect Mess, Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freeman argue that;
Our brains evolved to function in a messy world, and sometimes when we insist on thinking in neat, orderly ways, we’re really holding back our minds from doing what they do best. No matter how messy the world is, we humans seem determined not to see it that way. We enlist all sorts of schemes to avoid having to accept disorder and randomness, but when viewed logically these appear to be glitches in our software.
If the nature of the Universe tends towards chaos and unpredictability, who are we to argue with it? In fact, in order to be one with the Universe, one should “go with the flow” and let is all slide.
But sadly for me and 99% of people out there, the need for a steady paycheck typically means working for employers who don’t share that same view of the cosmos – they want results that can be measured and sold to make a profit. Steady paychecks are the antithesis of the Natural Order of Things.
This means that like it or not, we have to strive to imposing some sort of order to our lives, damaging as that may be to the universe as a whole . And it also leads to the main point of this article; how to create and use a low-tech personal digital assistant to put some structure into you day!
The Basic Kit
Here my personal set-up for the Dudes Organizational Paradigm for the Exceptionally Scatterbrained – or DOPES.
The notebook is a QUO VADIS HABANA COMPACT (6.25 inches by 9.25 inches). It’s as wide as an iPad but narrower, and has a much better battery life – plus you can see the pages in bright sunlight. There’s also a pocket on the inside back cover that is wide enough to let you slot in standard 8.5 x 11 paper, which is great when you are in meetings and someone hands you a sheet of paper to take away . The same goes for metric A4 pages. In the picture below, you can see a folder piece of paper that illustrates how it fits; and you also have room to drop in a few business cards.
Strapped onto the front of the notebook is a really cool piece of kit called the QUIVER, which is basically a leather pocket with an elasticated strap at the back. It comes in different sizes, but for the Quo Vadis Habana compact you need to order what they call the “Extra Large,” which can also be used on iPad covers. I have the double pen version in black leather with yellow stitching but there are other options.
Inside the Quiver I keep two writing instruments; a Cross Torero Diamondback fountain pen with Diamine Macassar brown ink, and a Pentel Graph Gear™ 1000 with the 0.9 mm lead. Why a pencil? Because if I run out of ink, the lead will always work! The Pentel Graph Gear 1000 comes in colors and thicknesses but I prefer the yellow 0.9 mm version. It is retractable, has a removable top that exposes an eraser, and you can remove the eraser to store extra lead fillers. Not your ordinary wooden pencil, in other words.
When you open up the notebook, just inside I keep three special “bookmarks” that I actually made from the transparency sheets we all used to use with overhead projectors. I have several boxes of these in a variety of colors that I have “repurposed” as bookmarks onto which I attached yellow, green, and blue sticky flags.
You can still get acetate sheets at places like Staples and Office Depot, and you can cut out 6-8 bookmarks from one sheet. If you’re lucky -as I was – you can find colored sheets, so that as you can see above, I have yellow flags on a yellow strip, blue flags on a blue strip, and green flags on a green one. By having these on acetate bookmarks, I don’t have to carry around plastics flag holders, and I can re-use the flags.
Now, all of the organizing systems out there in the world will have you chop up your tasks into different types, usually up to about 7. That’s far too many for me so I use the following trio:
- Green = To Do. This is for items that I have to get done within a time frame.
- Yellow = Investigate. This is for things I need to look into but don’t necessarily have an end-date in mind.
- Blue = Fun stuff. Speech Dudes blog post, @etyman tweets, new books to buy – anything I want to do outside of work that if I didn’t write them down I’d forget about.
Using the DOPES System
Here’s probably the most minimal set of instructions you’ll ever find for a “time management” tutorial:
1. Write things down in your notebook whenever you need to remember them. Add a date if you want to be really efficient!
2. Write the words “TO DO” or “INVESTIGATE” or “FUN” after any text where you need to actually do something.
3. Draw a little square after the words TO DO, INVESTIGATE, or FUN.4. Once a week (or whenever you can rouse yourself to action) look page over the pages and stick a GREEN FLAG next to a TO DO, a YELLOW FLAG next to an INVESTIGATE, and a BLUE FLAG next to a FUN. Make sure the colored end stick out beyond the edge of the page.
5. Every time you open the notebook, look for colored tabs and see what you still need to do, investigate, or enjoy.
6. When you’ve done it, investigated it, or enjoyed it, put a check/tick mark in the little box and remove the colored flag, replacing it neatly back on your acetate bookmark – see, I told you they were re-usable!
Here’s an example, just in case you are a visual learner:
A are the written notes I want to do something about; B is the FUN category (which I sometimes mark as a sub-category – in this instance it’s related to my Etyman twitter account); C is the check-box, that remains empty until I do some thing; and D is the BLUE flag I use to mark all FUN actions.
And that, dear reader, is the low-tech DOPES System in all its glory! If you look back at the first picture (and the second and third) you’ll see that you can always see all the flags even when the notebook is closed. So as long as you can see flags, you know you still have things to do; if there are no flags, you are all up-to-date and caught up. (Hint: unless you are superhuman, you will always see some flags!)
Although I can’t guarantee that this system will bring you untold wealth, universal acclaim, or a knighthood from the Queen, I can tell you that it’s a damn sight better than having no system at all.
So take a trip to your favorite stationery store and get yours own DOPES System set up this weekend. And if you want to take it to the next level, which is to add a hi-tech component, check out the next part in this series: Becoming DOPIER – the Dudes Organizational Paradigm Integrated with Electronic Recording!
 2012 State of the States: The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment. Report by the American Gaming Association, available in PDF from: http://www.americangaming.org/sites/default/files/uploads/docs/sos/aga_sos_2012_web.pdf
 No, I’m not picking on Americans; it’s just that it’s easier for me to get US statistics. I’m pretty confident we could find some similar figures for any Western country, where rather than worry about finding where the next meal is coming from, folks worry about why they have to pay more for extra leg-room on a plane. http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/15/self-help-industry-ent-sales-cx_ml_0115selfhelp.html
 The line comes from the track “Time” on the classic album The Dark Side of the Moon, which was released over 40 years ago in 1973. I had just about hit my teens and it was one of the first LPs (as they were called) that I ever bought. It’s actually embedded in a longer verse that reads;
“Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time,
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines.
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way,
The time has come, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.”
The older I get, the harder it has become to listen to this song because it’s so true. I can only play it if I’m in a good mood as it inevitably leads to me becoming sad and depressed. But then again, life sucks – and then you die.
 Physics tells us that “work” requires “energy,” and that all energy ultimately ends up as heat. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is quite explicit about this, especially with regard to something called “The Heat Death of the Universe” – or “How the Universe will die in a big ball of fire.” You see, in terms of energy, the universe is a closed system. And like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, no energy ever goes in and no energy ever goes out. Furthermore, energy cannot be created or destroyed but changed from one form to another, and the ultimate form of energy is heat. When you do any work, you generate heat; and the more heat we generate, the closer the universe is to its ultimate demise; and so the LESS work you do, the BETTER this is for the universe. Ergo, sitting around on my fat ass doing bugger all is helping to save the universe – and how noble is that! So next time some Type A hotshot trying to do 7 things at once tells you you’re lazy, remind him/her that you are, in fact, saving not just the planet but the entire cosmos and all its inhabitants, human and otherwise.
 I’ve tried another well-known higher-end notebook called the Rhodia Webnotebook, which is 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches. However, although it has a pocket on the inside back cover, you cannot get an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper folded in half to fit – you have to fold it into quarters. It seems like a minor detail but it is an important one to bear in mind. The Rhodia itself is a great notebook but for me having to fold a sheet twice instead of once in order to get it to fit is a deal breaker. You can see a review of the Habana and the Rhodia at The Goulet Pen Company‘s YouTube site.