Overwhelmed? Try the Red Zone Tactic
by Marg McAlister
Some people seem to be born organized. You probably remember them from school: the ones who always had
well-organized pencil cases equipped with erasers, sharpeners, pens, scissors and glue-sticks (probably in
duplicate). Their hair was always neatly done; their clothes ironed and bearing a full complement of buttons.
Grown up and in the work force, The Organized Ones highlight the deficiencies of the rest of us. They have neat
desks. They have coordinated diaries, Palm Pilots and computers. Worst of all, they have to-do lists that actually
end up with all the little boxes checked. I may have been born a Virgo, but I was not born organized. My life seems
to have been a constant battle with missing buttons, uncooperative kids, piles of paperwork, and endless lists.
Ah, lists. Now we're getting to the bottom of things. I've bought and read books about getting organized, but
none of the advice works for more than 48 hours. I know all about making a list of things you need to do and
ranking them A, B or C. I know you have to do the A things first. I know it helps to do the small tasks first (do
them in five minutes, cross them off, and hey! you bask in a sweet glow of accomplishment.)
Then you have the "Do the hardest thing first" advocates. Tackle the biggest task while you're fresh, they say.
It's so much easier. But what if it takes 2 days to do the 'big task' - and meanwhile, the other 37 tasks awaiting
attention loom ever more ominously?
Two weeks ago, the crunch came. I was swimming my early morning laps and mentally scrolling through all the
tasks I had to do that day. Then I thought about the projects that had to be done the next day.... then the
projects that were coming up Real Soon Now.
It wasn't long before I concluded that I needed at least 36 hours in every day (for the next six weeks) to get
through the pile. And that's forgetting about sleeping and eating.
It seemed like a tempting option to just sink to the bottom of the pool and stay there. Let someone else run the
Nope. There had to be a way. I turned and swam another lap. There had to be a method of turning my piles of
paper, my endless, unfinished to-do lists and my looming deadlines into a workable system.
That's when I came up with The Red Zone.
The Red Zone System
The Red Zone system is dead simple. It's based on the to-do lists and the organizers we all know so well. But
it's tactile. It's in-your-face. And because it's stuck to the wall, I can't lose it.
This is what I did.
I drove to K-Mart and bought:
- A large cork noticeboard.
- A box of square notelets.
- A packet of push pins.
I divided the noticeboard into three sections and painted one-third red, one-third yellow and one-third
Red Zone means "Urgent. Needs attention ASAP."
Yellow Zone means "Start work on these. Will need to move to Red Zone soon."
Blue Zone means: "Think about these. Be ready to move to Yellow."
Feel free to choose your own colours. I already had paint - you may have to add that to your shopping list.
Then I hung the noticeboard on the wall right near my computer.
I sat at my desk and (one per notelet) wrote down all the tasks, projects, and deadlines I had pending. Some
were urgent. Some needed to be done soon. Some were due in a week... some in two weeks... some were not due for a
month but needed thinking about now.
I divided the notelets into three piles, then started pinning them up on the noticeboard. Red Zone filled up
pretty fast. Yellow wasn't far behind. Blue Zone actually had some space.
I phoned people and emailed contacts to let them know that I needed two full weeks to clear the decks. If they
needed information, they could contact Rob, my husband and business partner.
I looked at the Red Zone notes, picked the one that absolutely couldn't wait, and started work.
Has it worked? Well, I'm ten days into my new system. So far, yes, it's working. Better than the endless to-do
lists that got lost in the paper storm on my desk... this is on the wall and immediately visible. Better than
electronic organizers (for me - I'm the hands-on type, obviously).
I've removed a dozen or so 'urgent' notes from the Red Zone tossed them into the wastepaper bin - mission
accomplished! I've moved others from the Yellow Zone over to Red, and one from Blue to Yellow. I've even had people
look at the board and offer to take over a task - things I would never have thought of delegating. Another notelet
I'm getting back some control.
Best of all, I can see how this system would work for anything. Household organization. Family budgets. Writers'
deadlines. Craft projects. Business tasks... and a whole lot more. I've got my life back!
(c) Copyright Marg McAlister