In my task manager, Omnifocus, I have different folders that I use to organize different zones of responsibility in my life.1 I’ve been using the same five ones since I was in college: Author, Work, Ninja, Victorian, and Life. I finally managed to condense Author and Work into the same folder, because I’m now a working author. And yes, it does drive me batshit crazy that Life is the combo breaker, even though the whole idea is that it’s a shorthand preface to be followed by “Projects.” Like, “Work Projects.” But I can’t take it: I’m renaming it Adult this year.
The way I define them is:
- Author: Author/career tasks
- Adult: Adulting tasks. Keeping the house clean, paying my bills, remembering to brush my teeth.
- Victorian: Dilettante Central. All my interests go here, from languages to art history to craft projects to coding. The name came from someone mocking me for wanting to learn to draw, “like some Victorian lady.” I didn’t stop having interests as a teenager, which is apparently when you are supposed to put an end to having passions for new things and decide to be the exact person you will be for the rest of your life. So I suppose that makes me a Victorian.
- Ninja: Athletic pursuits. When I graduated from college, I was convinced I could become a modern ninja and made a list of all the things I would have to do to be one. Basically I just wanted to do parkour and fence. I also went through a weird lock-cracking phase in high school, so I think what I may have been thinking of is “spy.” Over time, I’ve realized that what I actually enjoy is doing a diversity of activities, mainly outdoors, so usually this folder has a lot of projects relating to keeping track of all the different things I enjoy.
I think the fact that I’ve been using these categories for literally ten years now speaks to how I view my own interests and responsibilities. I don’t think what I’m trying to achieve here is really an even time balance–adulting tasks will always be the most numerous and time consuming and difficult for me, and author tasks are how I make money so they naturally take precedence–but really just a sense of balance overall. The idea that I’m living a “good life.”
The place I’ve been trying to put more effort is in that “Ninja” zone, not because it was empty, but because as I switched career tracks and lost the structure of working out on my lunch breaks and after work with friends, it had become devalued by not having an end goal. I still went running and hiking, I just felt guilty about it. So this year, Ninja means triathlon. Projects in this area of my life are usually free-form single action lists, like “get kayaking pass” or “plan Old Rag hike” or, last year, “get a chest protector you moron rapiers are serious business.”2
It’s going to be a challenge, I think, to balance my desire to hit an end goal with doing what’s best for myself overall. I had originally wanted to start “training”3 on January 1, right out of the gate, but in exactly three days I managed to hurt myself badly enough that I couldn’t lift my leg. Last year, I comically gave myself tendonitis in my foot, and in trying to compensate, I managed to fuck up that entire side of my body. Being a stubborn moron has a price. But I’m happy because, midweek, I actually made the right decision: instead of making it worse, I decided to focus on learning to swim for the next couple of weeks, try some strength training, get proper shoes,4 and figure out what I want to accomplish this year.
Maybe that’s the weird part: to have a goal that can be defined numerically, rather than as a sense of wellbeing. I don’t think I really believed I’d ever become a ninja, but I really could become an Ironman. So, we’ll see if that leads me to prioritize what I clearly think is important more effectively, and if I can do it without destroying everything else I love. If so, it would be easy to apply that logic to other things I love, with self-defined goals. Maybe that would work better than the goal of making time for pleasure.
I recognize that it’s bad that I’m addicted to goal-directed pursuits, and can’t relax enough to enjoy things that aren’t working towards something, but you can work against or with your own neuroses, and if you get to the same end, maybe that’s ok. Maybe trying to be a ninja, even if I never get there, is still a net positive.
- Folders are ways of organizing projects, basically, but not projects themselves.
- I actually do write tasks for future-me in this voice, when present-me is suffering from past-me’s idiocy.
- It’s in quotation marks because I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.
- Checked that one off, by the way. Pacers in DC is great, patient, and welcoming.