Thursday Thoughts: Step into the Discomfort Zone

Thursday Thoughts: Step into the Discomfort Zone


When we are a creature of habit, sometimes it is important to step back, take a look at our reflection and see if those habits makes sense anymore.  About a month ago, I made a decision.  I threw myself into the Discomfort Zone. (Cue the suspenseful, scary Hitchcock-like music to interject!)


Now I must first explain that I am not one who gets her kicks out of changing things up, flirting with experiments or fixing what isn’t broken. But one thing that I have been working on during the year is examining and re-examining my life of status quo and the conclusion I have arrived at is sometimes what is broken or at least in need of a tune-up isn’t always so obvious. In fact, sometimes these rickety parts of our life  can disguise themselves as being fully operational even if upon closer inspection, we soon realize that it isn’t working. Not really.


I am very old school about a lot of things. I like sending actual paper cards through the U.S. postal service for birthdays and major holidays. I would always prefer to find the perfect gift and put great time in making the unwrapping experience fun rather than sticking a gift card in an envelope and sending it, unless I have no other option due to distance or time and especially if I’m going to get to watch you unwrap it. I’m all about the experience and not just the end result. So while yes, I’ve moved away from paper checks to doing all of my banking online or by phone and I do prefer to text or email then pick up a phone (but that’s more about the introvert in me), I haven’t transitioned to doing everything in my life electronically because I myself appreciate the more personal touch. Similarly, I have never moved to an electronic organizational system. I have always been very scared, nope, make that EXTREMELY scared at the potential disaster that could happen if I lost all of my information or planning details, because then where would I be? Screwed, that’s where! Or so this is what I tell myself when I’m contemplating the doomsday possibilities of such a scenario.

I have found a paper system that I’ve fine-tuned that works pretty well for me, at least in terms of preventing me from forgetting important stuff or losing any of the details of past occasions or important dates. I found the right size and style planner that works for me, and determined that I do best when I can see a week at a glance though still have detailed listings in each day to map up what my priorities for that day. Yet I still need an overall month at a glance too for the big picture. So after decades of figuring out how I operate most efficiently, this is the system that works for me. While I’m thrilled that I have arrived at this final aha moment, the problem is the planner is so bulky and so damn heavy to lug around everywhere I go. Plus, it’s not always possible nor practical to always have this big-ass planner on my person at all times. I’d hobble even more than I already do with a bum knee if I had to carry this monstrosity everywhere I go, even if the information might be something I would like to have available to me anytime I needed it.


So earlier in the year, I started playing around with Google Calendar, using it for my major appointments and keeping track of assignment deadlines and shift timeframes at my couple of part-time gigs I do. I didn’t invest a lot of time and energy, because after all, I was still using my basic paper planner system but I would find it handy when I would be at a doctors appointment and needed to schedule my upcoming one that I could just check my phone and look ahead a month or two. I never considered until recently that I could completely replace — GASP — my big, bulky planner by going all electronic, but I am on Gmail and use the Google Drive regularly for storage as well as the Google Calendar some of the time. I persuaded myself that if I have access to my calendar on my phone which is with me wherever I go and I have access to my Gmail and consequently Google Calendar anywhere I had access to a computer which meant home and any of my workplaces, then I could have access to my schedule data just about anytime and anywhere. That is, as long as the device is working and I have Internet connection. Hmm, I pondered that possibility. I also reminded myself that when I’m doing my planning for the week ahead on Sunday mornings, I was constantly having to re-enter each week a list of tasks each week again and again, so if I had it in an electronic format, I could customize that task to repeat and specify when and what week, and I would never forget to include it because it would always show up there automatically. Wow, what a concept! Automated repetitive tasks that take the repetition out of my valuable free time and need to remember it each week.. It would be the helpful reminder for me.

But the whole idea of this BIG change in how I operate in my life still scared the crap out of me.  This would be a new process meaning I would have a huge learning curve and when that’s the case things always take longer in the beginning. Would that slow me down too much or prevent me from getting what I needed to complete? I countered this notion with the knowledge that if I took the time to lay the groundwork now, inserting all of those regularly scheduled tasks and needs into my schedule when they hit and all of those important dates that I never wanted to forget,  I would only need to do it once.

So one day in September I said to myself, Chris, let’s at least give it a shot. Let’s try this out for the rest of this week and see how it goes, and I did. Then, I decided let’s try for the rest of the month. Finally, after that grew to become a little more comfortable every day, I thought, let’s really test this time — let’s do it for the entire month of October — no use of paper planning for the week at all. Only electronic means. I decided if I liked this idea after the month, I was going to make it a permanent change going forward and if I was not sure after October, I’d try it again for November but by December, I would make a final decision, either way.

Well, here I am on October 17 – two weeks before the end of the month – and I am happy to report that I am staying in the Discomfort Zone for good. I’m completely convinced that in time, it will no longer feel like this. And I’ve found a good use for my other planner, but just with my month at a glance paper calendars and the section storing basic household information for me or my husband to access when needed like account numbers and contact information. I can keep that somewhere safely at home and access my day-to-day schedule and obligations through fully electronic means. Sigh. I cannot freaking believe I’ve taken the plunge.

My last month of trying out this  system hasn’t been foolproof. I’ve made lots of mistakes while learning. For example, I am now very familiar with the importance of syncing data between devices because if you don’t, then it serves no purpose for you to access only partial data on one if you can’t access it everywhere you log in. But you make that mistake of forgetting to sync only once, and then you never make it again. I’ve also recognized there are some limitations to Google Calendar. For example, their task list part of the tool does not always appear to sync successfully so rather than trying to make a faulty part of the app work, I found a good workaround and create events instead of tasks. Of course, it doesn’t satisfy my need to cross off or check off something on my to do list, an affliction I will admit to suffering from as I am a closure freak. So I found a way to make it work for me. I create events and arbitrarily assign a time somewhere in the time of day that I plan on doing this task but the times themselves are irrelevant. And then in the morning, I print out that day’s agenda so I have a single sheet with my appointments and tasks on it. When I complete something, I still get the satisfaction of striking it out on the list or if I’m going to need to go into calendar later and ‘postpone’ an item to a later time, I use the same PPD code I used to employ in my paper planner (like the baseball term for postponed games, something I’ve always incorporated into my planning process), and this way I’ll have a reminder on that single page for when I’m finalizing the next day’s tasklist. When the day is done I can just recycle the single pages. I have no need to keep them because I’ll always have an electronic way to check when I did something in Google calendar. So I minimize a waste of stored, heavy sheets in a big planner by storing everything electronically but on a daily basis, I get the physical satisfaction to cross it off and keep that psychological need of mine for closure happy, too. Win-win!


I am not a person averse to change generally. I think I’ve adapted pretty well over the years to some major curve balls that have been hurled my way in 49 years, but I do admit that I tend to keep things as they are if they appear to be going okay. And my time management system had been working pretty well, except physically, I was growing increasingly weary dragging around a heavy work bag and bulky, impractically huge planner so for me it came down to not so much making a process work better but making it more practical, comfortable and adaptable to my circumstances and affording myself the same access if not greater access to information when I needed it.

Do you have something in your life that might appear to be working but perhaps could work better? Or maybe it’s a process that’s not even in place yet and you know you need to take that leap to create a system? Taking that first step is really difficult, but I think it can be more difficult if you already have something in place because then it forces you to consciously make the decision to CHANGE drastically — like I did. I had to talk myself down a few times when I would start to think about the possibility of one day losing everything if the application experienced a major glitch. But I reminded myself that I have used Google mail now for something like 10 or 11 years and during that time, I have never lost anything. I may have misfiled things in the wrong folders, but that was my fault. And there are always times when a website has a hiccup and goes down for a few hours or even a day and that has happened before maybe once or twice during that time. But it wasn’t for an excessive amount of time, and I always had access to my data when it came back. So those are the only things I see as being a realistic problem or of course if my phone is not handy or not charged.

For anyone out there who is considering the move from paper to electronic as I did, look at all of the tools available to you. If you are also on Gmail, I highly suggest playing around with the Google Calendar app, but I realize you may be on a different email platform or maybe Outlook is more your thing. I personally don’t care for the Outlook tool. I think it’s more complicated than it needs to be but I also know it probably has more functionality than other tools like Google Calendar. It all really depends upon what you need it for but you usually can devise workarounds with any product to get it to do what you want.

If your challenge is different than mine but you are harboring some fear or confusion about making the change or maybe you are not really sure where to start, ask around. I find sometimes when I’m in a situation like that, I can throw out a question to my Facebook friends or whatever group, social media community or team members at work and ask what they use. It’s amazing how much information is readily available but we are often too afraid to ask for it. It doesn’t mean we have to take their advice but it we can glean knowledge from their own research and experience, we can save ourselves a lot of heartache and time.

Let me know what challenges you’re facing that may sound familiar to what I’ve just embarked on, and if you have recently made a transition like me, tell me how it’s going for you. Are you having success with it? Or have you run into a lot of hiccups? I love hearing from you. As always, thanks for reading. ~ Chris K.






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