An Ode to Spreadsheets and Scribbles


I have a spreadsheet that organizes my spreadsheets. If that doesn’t horrify you, you’re my kind of person. My lists have lists. Nothing makes me happier than taking organized notes that get placed into organized spreadsheets that get organized on my computer. I am a freak. 

This is a real thing I use

This is a real thing I use

Recently, a few weekends went by where I felt like I had wasted my time, and though I got some much-needed sleep, I felt unrested and unsettled. Those were the weekends without To Do lists. In the past couple of weeks I have come to embrace the fact that my life just runs more smoothly with lists. I can go with the flow, change my plans, and like to think I’m not an insane control freak (maybe..). But I just work better when I can write something down on paper and then run a ball point pen right through it. 

And yet, I also have a sketchbook with me full of wildly unorganized, sprawling thoughts. If you picked it up and read through it you’d probably recoil at my illegible handwriting, slightly terrifying doodles, and garishly colored highlighter reminders. Not to mention the organized chaos that is my room: endless stacks of papers and books and crumpled old mail that would horrify any sane person.


It’s taken me 24 years to realize that the reason I need lists and spreadsheets is the same reason I need a messy room and a sketchbook of unorganized thoughts—I cause chaos just to reign it in. Throw every idea at the wall and then carefully sweep up all the ones that don’t stick, placing them into their proper excel cell. Let yourself sink into a messy room for the joy of finally organizing a pile of important papers and alphebatizing old books. Make a mess of a life… and then find the pieces worth cleaning up and keeping. 

And so it’s with joy, and spreadsheets, and sketchbooks that I sit at a coffee shop today enjoying my organized mess of a life. 

And in case you’re wondering, my go to’s for organizing chaos:

  • Wunderlist: a basic but wildly helpful to do list app. You can make recurring to do’s (my Thursday spreadsheet update for work), set reminders (shit, it’s Sunday I’ve got an email to send), and satisfyingly check off your done tasks to watch your list get shorter. 
  • Google Drive: I’m a pen and paper kind of person, but I’ve learned to embrace the power of Drive. When my recipes are all logged in a perfectly organized Google Sheet, I can access them from my phone at the grocery store and quickly see what ingredients I need. Oh, and I guess it helps with real work too. 
  • Sketchbook: Contrary to how it may seem, a blank page is my best friend. Leave your lined pages and gridded sheets for a more strictly organized person. I need expansive blank space to scrawl, scribble and doodle every thought out of my head before I loose it, something that a computer won’t let me do. 

Scratching the Creative Itch

The summer after my junior year of college I had a boss who gave me a constant stream of wise and not-so-wise words to live by. It was he who first dumped on me the harshest reality of the working world. “Molly,” he growled, “Life is a lot like high school. You wake up early, do work you don’t want to do, and report to a lot of other people. Enjoy college, because life will be high school all over again, except longer.” Or something more eloquent than that.

Well, Wise Boss, in many ways that’s true. I have a schedule that’s more like high school, a set of tasks more like high school, people telling me to do things (pay for this, prepare for that) like high school, and an alarm clock that I actually have to listen to, no matter how tired I am, just like high school. Wise Boss, however, left out the part where it’s totally acceptable to kill a bottle of wine after work, you have no real rules to speak of, and I spend my days considering how to best accommodate women and their breasts (okay to be fair he couldn’t have planned for that part).

But since my jazzy entrance into real life I have noticed one other thing that’s happening just like high school: I got that creative itch that wants to be scratched. Since I spend my day being less than artistic, I’ve found myself more and more antsy to start being creative again, either by drawing or making videos or painting.

The beckoning of very sharp pencils

I’m no Frida Kahlo, and by that I mean I don’t have a unibrow. But I’m also no Monet, and I don’t fancy myself ever being one. I make the arts just fine, and the best compliment anyone ever lied to me was by telling me I was a great artist (but he was also a boyfriend and contractually obligated to appreciate my art). I do, however, love to draw and paint, and I’m increasingly realizing that it’s something important for me to do in my life. I’ve been trying to set aside just a little time here and there to draw, whether it’s doodling a few pages while I watch TV or sketching my feet as I fight to stay awake in bed.I haven’t yet invested in a set of West Coast paints (that’s my new thing, having West Coast versions of all my East Coast things), but that’s next to come.

Being in a new city has also reawakened my love of wandering around museums for hours at a time, something I’m hoping I’ll finally get myself to do at the De Young soon. I did make it to the Cindy Sherman exhibit at the SFMOMA which was pretty amazing. But even just being in a city that’s still relatively new, and that’s fairly creative, has made me realize how much it’s something I miss. There are murals everywhere, museums galore, and a bevy of creative people. Hopefully that will give me the kick in the ass I need and one of these days I’ll finally get around to making myself do more than just doodle.

Side note: it took me until now to realize just how many parentheses I use. Wow.

In the meantime, I’m looking for projects to start to keep scratching that creative itch and to stop the creative part of my brain from atrophying. That’s a thing. Any suggestions for projects or creative prompts? A true artist wouldn’t need internet inspiration, but as we already decided, I’m no Damien Hirst, by which I mean I have no room to play with formaldehyde.