by Ronald Warren Deutsch, Soma Magazine 1998


I was riding the "5" Fulton bus one day and as I sat down my foot hit something. It was someone’s personal organizer. The person who lost it had wisely put her name and phone number on the front page, so I called and left a message. I know I shouldn’t have but it was either watch a Daily Show rerun or peruse this stranger’s organizer. Skimming through the pages, nothing struck me especially interesting — something along the lines of "pick up heroin shipment from Yakuza, Thursday 8pm" or "Wednesday, kill Harry." But no.

Then, something did draw me closer. There was a section called "Goals" and it occurred to me that while you can always find your friend’s phone numbers and birthdays again, what happens when you lose your goals. What if I stole this person’s goals? I turned to that section and sadly, again, there was nothing earth shattering — not even "divorce Harry." The number one goal was "be more organized" and number two was "be a better friend to Debbi." Certainly these were noble goals, I’m sure, but if I were to ever fill in one of those sections — if for nothing but the thought that I might lose it one day and someone might find it — I’d have to put something a little more loftier in there. Something grander than "eat more vegetables."

The personal organizer (or personal information manager) found itself in the daily lives of our citizens sometime around the mid-eighties, a product of and for over-achieving yuppies. How can you tell if you’re climbing the ladder of success if your organizer isn’t filled with appointments and phone numbers? Tell me you haven’t found yourself suffering a mild form of depression when opening up your calendar for the week and finding it empty or the only appointment for week is to take your mother to the chiropodist. Los Angeles based stress counselor Nora Jacobs says, "We can’t handle all the information that is thrown at us today. We’re inundated. In order to feel some level of control, we’re forced to organize every moment or feel lost, stressed and ultimately depressed." Doctor Jacobs says the best remedy is simply to simplify. "Turn around, look at your values and eliminate what ultimately turns out to be meaningless and useless. There is a concept of tomorrow and people tend to lose track of that. Tomorrow, truly, is another day."

But today, in our post-modern world, corporations are pushing employees to produce more, create more, be more. A recent study showed that 73% of people polled believed they would be more busy in the next year. They even have company cafeterias now so you have absolutely no excuse to take a walk down the block and meet a friend for a crois-sandwich and drop off your dry-cleaning. But how much is actually getting done? The biggest complaint I hear from my corporate friends is that they spend almost all their time in meetings as opposed to actually doing anything. And you can’t just have a meeting, or course. It must be scheduled. But where is the time for the other stuff? You know, the time you spend with your friends, your family, getting your new body modification? Enter the world of time management seminars. You see it’s not just enough to have an organizer, you need to be sure you’re actually organizing it correctly.

Oh yes, friends. There’s a wrong way and a right way to fill in your organizer. Although the folks at Day Runner and filoFax said they believe their products should be flexible and that each of us knows best how to organize our lives and our organizers, on the other end of the spectrum, Franklin/Covey Corporation wants your organizer to help you be a better, more fulfilled person. Franklin/Covey, an arm of Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," has taken personal organizing to the next step. There are books, tapes, videotapes, and of course, seminars. Their catalog is filled with soft-focused photographs and personal testimonies like "I didn’t believe that a planner could make that marked of a difference [in my life], but I believe it now" and "It is so nice to look in one place and see all that I need to know at a glance; not only for the future, but what a wonderful reminder of the past." As if someone that time-effective has nothing better to do than to stroll down last year’s calendar and fondly reminisce. Upon visiting one of their stores, I had the same uncomfortable feeling I have when in a Christian book store — their employees are more missionaries than salespeople.

"I could easily have a great Friday night at an OfficeMax store," says personal organizing consultant Mim King. Mim consults individuals, corporations and home-businesses in and around San Francisco and believes that although we have so many time-saving devices at our disposal we seem to have even less time because of them. "While many people are good at organizing one part of their lives, they seem to have little control over others," she states from experience. But she cautions against those who think simply buying an organizer will solve those problems: "Organizers won’t prioritize your values on their own. You don’t hear many people on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time at the office. In the end it’s not just about organizing your day, but understanding what’s important to your life."

But you have to start somewhere. So which organizer is best for you? The choices can be staggering. Be it your standard imitation leather paper planner or your Palm III with global paging and e-mail functions. Day Runner says their products are "fashion-focused" while filoFax are "fashion-oriented" (code words for "we sell to women"). Organizers come in all shapes and designs — it’s not just a scheduler, ladies, it’s a fashion accessory. Day Runner offers a plethora of tie-in models including Loony Tunes, Dilbert and The Far Side. filoFax has several stylish models, including one that costs $1,095 — made of genuine alligator. The perfect gift for the man or woman who has everything and no time to enjoy it all.

My life with organizers has seen various stages. I used to carry a little Week-At-A-Glance and that was just fine. Until I lost it. So, I moved to a heftier Day Runner figuring I wouldn’t lose that but found myself having to schedule a lot of chiropractic visits just from lugging the thing around. I tried one of those Casio doodads and spent four hours programming it only to have it crash when I went out of town the next week and desperately needed it. Today, I use my computer (backing up regularly) and a Palm Pilot. Of course, I’m probably not using it right. But then again, I think my goals are in order — I’m going to eat more vegetables and be a better friend to Debbi, whoever she is.

copyright 1998 Soma Magazine