I Might Look Organised, but That's Because I'm Not

"I keep a very neat and tidy to-do list on my desk and am always updating it. A colleague commented on how organised I was. It just couldn't be further from the truth." Chloe explains how she copes with the learning disorder she hides so well.

A lot of people comment on how organised I am. Usually it's when they see my neat and ordered notepad, an intense list of to-dos and have-dones.

Yes, I am always writing notes and updating my master to-do list. The fact is, if I didn't write everything down and keep updating my lists, I wouldn't get half of what I have to do done. Maybe not even a third.

A nightmare to begin with

The truth is, I always had a poor memory when I was at school. I was always that kid who would hand in their homework late or forget when a deadline for an assignment was due. I'd be a nightmare to be in a group with, working on a project together, because I would forget stuff we'd agreed. Teachers would harangue me a bit, and I began to realise that my short-term memory was becoming a bit of an issue. To combat this, I learned - probably from the age of thirteen or fourteen - to write everything down. Everything. To make notes, and keep loads and loads of lists.

Scribbling it down

Fast forward to now and it's this that gets me through. The fact is that, if you give me a list of verbal instructions or we agree on something, although I am well-intentioned, it may not get done. Not through a lack of willingness, just that I am going to forget three-quarters of it.

In meetings, if someone says something valid, or useful, or definitive, I have to scribble it down right away. So even if I am not taking the official minutes, I will take my own notes. I sometimes volunteer to do so for everyone, since otherwise, it can look a little odd for me to be scribbling away so much.

More like a soap opera

It doesn't always work out though. In one meeting recently, I sent round notes that said: "Tom suggested this, then Di jumped in with that, but then Harry rebutted it, pointing out something else, before Tom came back in to overrule and point out that it wasn't really a discussion point since he had already committed to this anyway."

I thought my summary was helpful: not just what had been agreed, but how it has been reached, but a colleague said that though it was quite entertaining it was more like a plotline from a soap opera than notes from a meeting. I redid them and reissued them, and when nobody complained afterward that I'd missed out anything, it was a real relief.

Keeping me efficient

I do find that having everything on my to-do list is helpful. It's all there, staring me in the face all day long, and if I find I have a quick five minutes here and there, it is easy to just nail one quick thing and get it done. Boom. I love crossing things off because - to avoid flipping backward and forward through pages of notes - I rewrite my lists every day.

I've also got quite good at negotiating deadlines with other people. I've spent most of my working life living in fear of being late on something. If I can I will try and find out whether my deadline - the one I am given - is the real deadline, because with the best will in the world, I don't need people building in additional deadlines which aren't real and it means I have unnecessarily prioritised the wrong piece of work. I don't mind hard work, but I don't like feeling anxious over things that are maybe important but not urgent. I'm okay with getting anything done really - as long as I have it on my lists.

A little over the top

More recently, I've migrated from lists on paper - the ones that everyone sees and feels compelled to comment on - to online lists. I use boards on Trello. In theory, you use them with others in groups, but I use them just to keep myself organised. I have four going at the moment, not shared with others, and in each board I have different labels, and different colours.

I think I have possibly gone a little bit 'over the top' in terms of my list-building but it helps me keep track. I would say I am quite disorganised and without all my lists I'd be quite disorganised. What I have found is that by having my lists, I can use them as a kind of guide rope to find my way through each day.

Taking the scenic route

What I do know now is that I have a form of dyspraxia - or 'Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). It can affect lots of things most people take for granted: movement, coordination, judgment, processing, memory, and more besides. As you may have gathered, it makes it really hard for me to be really organised. As a friend once said to me, it's like your brain takes the scenic route!

On top of this, I also have dyscalculia which, you may have guessed, means I am no good with numbers either. I am not stupid, and can learn to do the same task repetitively, but don't seem to have any capacity to retain what I might have learned. I'm not the person to ask about how to do something clever in Excel.

Making progress

You're probably wondering how I even get to work each day. Well, you know what, sometimes so do I. At its worst I can feel like I am in the wrong place, that I don't deserve my role, and am probably denying someone else who should really have my job.

One thing that has really helped me is to be in a workplace where I feel I can talk to my colleagues and also my manager. I have definitely worked in places in the past where not being able to discuss the issues I have has really added to my stress and anxiety. I do feel I have some supportive colleagues, and although I don't have a great concept of time, my list-making helps me order my day, and give me a timetable. Whereas in the past I was quite unreliable, I am actually pretty good now at working out how long something might take to complete, and better at working collaboratively.

It can be exhausting trying to stay on top of things - but as long as I have my lists, I'll be fine!

So now you know! I might look organised...but the reality is very, very different!


Chloe; ticking this blog off her to-do list!