CHRISTINA’S WORLD

Meet the most awesomely organized, time-managing, planned-out person in Dallas. (And don’t be late.)

IF SALVADOR DALI were to paint a portrait of Christina Tibbits, he might paint a woman with file drawers protruding from her ribs, thighs, kneecaps. If Rene Magritte were to paint a picture of Tibbits’ organizer, he might paint the book sitting on its easel, the page opening out into a window of blue sky, where time and space are nonexistent. If Joseph Cornell were to create an assemblage titled “Christina, ” he might construct one of his cabinets with tiny rows of jars, labeling their contents as meticulously as Tibbits does each of her drawers, shelves, and files.

To the Great Unwashed, the hordes of the hopelessly disheveled and unorganised, we who swim upstream in a sea of daily chaos, Tibbits’ superorganization appears surrealistic. So I have come to find out the secrets of her success in organization and time-management. (Ever the organizer, Tibbits wondered about the organization of our interview. “How do you want to proceed with this?” she asked. “Do you want me to talk about my systems first or do you want to start with questions?”)

So I began with questions. I asked questions about her personal organizer, questions about her filing systems, questions about how she became organized, questions about how being organized has changed her life. I asked her to show me her many orderly and labeled cabinets, closets, and files, and so she did. I asked her what advice she would give to one of the hopelessly unorganized who wanted to become more organized.

And she began her orderly answer with questions. “I always start by asking, ’What do you want? What do you want your life to be like?’ ” she says. “Because people always create the reality based on what’s in their head. If they really desire to be organized, they can go about doing that. “

To say Tibbits is organized is like saying Einstein was handy with numbers. Her underwear drawer is labeled bras, panties, and slips and sorted accordingly. Her blouses hang in the closet grouped by color. Her pantry shelves are labeled and their contents sorted according to category, such as teas, condiments, and cereals. Her pantyhose packages are arranged according to color. She uses hot files, tickler files, portable files, expandable files. She organizes alphabetically, categorically, chronologically, chromatically.

“Having it divided into how I think, accessible and labeled so I can find it quickly, is key, ” she says. At 35, she has already set up a will, a living will, a pension plan, a retirement plan, a trust fund for her son, and insurance policies covering her home, life, auto, and health. “Everything from my life to my death is in order, ” she says. Her personal organizer includes, among many other items, lists of goals, affirmations, prices, customers (she is a regional sales manager for a Massachusetts-based company that offers, surprise, productivity training and tools), the clothing sizes of the man she dates, his favorite colognes (Calvin Klein, Polo), planned renovations and repairs for her house, errands, birthdays, books to read (The Best and The Brightest, by David Halberstam and A Woman’s Worth by Marianne Williamson), movies to rent (On Golden Pond and Little Buddha), her entire wardrobe, prospective customers, hotels and car rentals for upcoming trips; a travel checklist (everything from the contents of her briefcase, cosmetic bag, and purse to foods and nutritional supplements); notes about her health (stretching classes, exercise schedule, physician visits); and a cruise she plans to take this fall. She says, “In business, when I show my hook to people sometimes, they say, ’Isn’t that a little hit anal?’ I just say, ’Well, not for me. ’ “

TWELVE YEARS AGO, Tibbits was one of the hopelessly unorganized, those who spend their days right-brainedly rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. A recent divorcee and single 23-year-old mother with mounting financial pressures, she was given a “make or break” job assignment at the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, where she was an assistant to the president. She worked from 4: 30 a. m. until 10 p. m. on the project, “moving stuff from one pile to another, ” she says. “I had piles everywhere. I had them piled chronologically, by category-piles for days. You couldn’t see the top of anything, drawers were pulled out, cabinets open, stuff everywhere. If you perceive that you are only running around in circles, and feel like you can’t get on top of the pile or even up to get a view of it, it’s just incredibly frustrating and overwhelming. “

Conflicting instructions, changes of direction, and emotional explosions ensued (“I was not the employee of the month”). Tibbits finally completed the assignment, but the chaos took its toll. She took a week off and visited her physician, who told her she had suffered a nervous breakdown. He also diagnosed her as having chronic fatigue syndrome. “The doctor told me I needed to manage myself better, so at that point I began to look for ways to organize myself and make life a little easier, a little calmer. ” Tibbits began to search for role models, for “people who looked comfortable, in control, who didn’t have the veins popping from their necks. “

She refers to unscheduled blocks of time on her calendar as “windows, ” as if they were timeless expanses into which she could step and possibly disappear. “On this morning is a window, and then after this meeting, I have a window here, ” she says, flipping through her calendar. “So basically two four-hour windows [this week]. ” This morning, she woke at 5: 45, showered, dressed, meditated for a half hour, took some clothes to the dry cleaner, and returned to her home office, where she “downloaded” her voice mail and hegan updating a 30-day action plan for her company. She will entertain my questions from 10 to 11: 45, then volunteer at the school across the street until 4 p. m., drive to a 4: 15 chiropractor appointment, exercise at 5: 30, meet with a focus group from 6: 30 to 8: 30, and then with herson’s teacher from 8: 30 to 9: 15. She will return home at about 20 minutes to 10.

Tibbits believes she has the time to do all of this in a day largely because of her organisational systems. “Once the systems are in place, there’s nothing else to do, ” she says. “It something is out of place, you just put it back, and its out of your mind. It’s not something you have to use your mind for, so you can use your mind for [thinking] ’What can I focus on for the next sell?’ or ’What trip do I want to take?’ instead of, ’God, this is such a messy house or office’ or ’I can’t find that piece of paper. ’” Tibbits’ conception of time resem-bles a structure containing windows; however, it also has doors that slam with finality. “What time is it?” she asks, startled. “Okay, 11 more minutes. “

Doing and being are two themes that permeate Tibbits’ life. Just Do It, barks a pad of adhesive-backed paper on her desk. Mundane tasks to be done or incoming information are to Tibhits merely clutter, “energy in my head, ” to be written down or “downloaded, ” as she puts it. She plows through the minutiae of modern life using her “systems” in which she “processes” everything-mail, laundry, paperwork, phone calls-according to the “same way of thinking. “

Or not thinking. “It’s either think about it all the time or just do it, ” she says. For example, when she receives a bill, she opens it immediately and writes a check for it right then and there. “It’s faster than sitting down and doing it separately, ” she says. Clearly, it isn’t the “doing” that motivates her, it’s getting it all done.

Paradoxically, “doing” appears to create more time for Tibbits to “be. ” One of her favorite sayings, adopted from the Buddha, is tacked to her bulletin board: “Don’t just do something, sit there. ” She meditates for half an hour twice a day, exercises for an hour each day, spends time with her 15-year-old son, dates the man she is involved with, and earns a six-figure income.

“[Being organized] has helped me to make a lot more money, take care of my customers better, have more time to be a mother, more time with the man I date, spend more time exercising, and focus on creating even more things that support me, ” she says. “And besides the tangible, there’s the intangible, like a stronger sense of certainty and more security, serenity, control, relief, and happiness. “

As Buddhist sages believe that one’s mind is affected by one’s environment, so believes Tibbits. “One thing people don’t really understand is if they have a lot of clutter, that’s what they’re focusing on and that’s what they are going to get more of, ” she says. “Your mind is always so alert and aware that it’s always picking up things to look at. So you can have it look at clutter, or you can have it look at the things you want. ” She keeps a list titled “Christina Tibbits’ 1995 Goals” next to the vanity mirror in her bathroom, tacked to the bulletin board near her desk, and on a page in her organizer. Collages she has constructed from bits of words and pictures hang on the wall near her desk. She points to an assemblage that contains words like “field of dreams, ” “escape, ” and “luxury vacations you can afford, ” and says, “Before I did that collage, I had never taken a vacation trip. I took two trips this year. “

As a child, Tibbits did not alphabetize her Barbie dolls. Nor did she arrange her stuffed animals according to genus and species. Her mother, who had “definite ideas about how things should be done and when they should be done, ” pres-sured Tibbits and her five siblings to be neat, And there’s hope for the rest of us. Tibbits believes that people who are orga-nized are not born, they’re made-but not through coercion, whether by a par-ent or an employer.

“It’s internally driven. It’s because people have said, either unconsciously or consciously, ’This is how 1 want my world to be, ’ ” she says.

Tibbits, however, does not hold herself up as the role model of the ultimately organised person, nor does she believe that there is One Right Way of being organized. This is good news for those of us who flounder in 10 directions at once, incessantly spinning our wheels, searching the laundry piles of our lives for lost socks, keys, files, and ultimately our minds (“I know I put it in here somewhere”).

“No two people are going to create the same identical system, ” Tibbits says. “Whatever systems you choose, they’re to support you to be more successful, more relaxed, and more comfortable so you can focus on going after what you want instead of sitting in the chaos of it all… There’s just so very much to do and so little time to do it. “

Exactly.

HOW TO BEAT THE TIME BANDITS: PART 1

BRING ME FOOD



DALLAS BOASTS A HANDFUL OF HOME DELIVERY SERVICES THAT CLAIM TO BRING you what you want from where you want it (see listing, page 48). One of the best is the Home Delivery Network. We picked a restaurant-Macaroni Grill-and ordered up lunch for a hungry editorial staff. Mozzarella alla Caprese to begin. One pizza am legume, one Pasta Gamberetti e Noci di Pino, one Pasta della Casa, a Caesar salad, and some foccacia bread.

Forty-five minutes later, the movable feast arrived. The pasta was warm (we didn’t even need to turn to our faithful microwave), the bread was fresh, and the pizza simply delicious: a repast most worthy of the $4 delivery charge and additional tip for the bearer of such goods. And no time wasted in traffic or long lunch lines. In fact, the only downside to this whole gastronomic adventure was that it was over too soon and, just steps away, our cluttered desks awaited. -Catherine Newton

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