By following a simple yet effective early morning routine for the past 15 or so years, I am proud to say that I have never once left the house without a critical work or commuting item in my possession. No forgotten wallet, no left-behind office key, no missing ferry pass.
I know, very impressive, and thank you for your applause. Purists will argue that my string of consecutive non-forgetting days was broken that rainy morning in November of 2004 when I left the house without my reading glasses. To such critics I would point out that while I technically did not have them with me, I did have in my possession my reading glasses case, and had my reading glasses been in their case, as they should have been, they would have been with me.
Why my reading glasses were not in their case is a story I will not trouble you with, other than to say that (a) neither the fingerprints nor the DNA analysis proved to be conclusive, (b) everyone residing in my house (except the dog, who wears contacts) remains a person of interest, and (c) the investigation is ongoing.
My routine works very simply. I have identified and numbered each of the items I carry on my commute. My wallet is No. 1. My office keys No. 2. My ferry pass No. 3. My reading glasses No. 4, and the change I carry to buy a newspaper as I walk onto the boat is No 5.
A lot of people would stop there and be content, but because there is no off position on the anal-compulsive switch, I took the system one step further and also numbered each of my pockets.
Thus, for example, the right rear pocket on my pants is No. 1, the left front pocket No. 2, the chest pocket on my shirt is No. 3, etc.
This little innovation allows me to crosscheck my accessory list with my pocket list and not only be sure that I have my items with me, but they are in the correct pockets. And rather than just rely on going through the checklist mentally, as I go through the list I physically slap the pocket in which the corresponding item is located.
I perform this routine twice each morning: once before I leave the house and again at the top of the driveway. To the untrained observer, the result may look like a man practicing the Macarena without music, or an unsuccessful audition tape for Dancing with the Dorks. But hey, it works for me.
My system seemed infallible until a couple of years ago when I started carrying my iPod. (I carry it partly because I like to listen to music but mostly to drown out conversations around me, and also as a sort of “Do Not Disturb” sign, which I have found to have an effectiveness rating of only about 80 percent, by the way.) Because my iPod is an elective rather than a required item, I was reluctant to give it a formal number and assign it to a pocket.
When you’ve been operating on a 1 through 5 format for 15 years, it’s difficult to shift to a Base 6 system. So instead, I began to approach my checklist employing a “Five Plus One” protocol. I use my usual system, then check to see if I have the “Plus One” item in the right front pocket of my coat. It’s my “free-agent” pocket with no assigned number.
I had to revisit my system a year or so ago when I reluctantly began to carry a cell phone with me, which is now my “Plus Two” item I put in my unassigned left front pocket of my coat. Not to confuse you, I occasionally allow it to double up in the No. 3 pocket since it’s Ferry Pass Compatible.
My “Five Plus Two” system may be reaching its capacity, so unless I start wearing those cargo pants that are so popular with the kids or start listening to my iPod on my cell phone, I’m afraid I can’t carry any additional items on my commute.
Whether you consider my system a mindless exercise in soul-deadening monotony or the highest achievement of a true Connoisseur of Routines may depend on how many times you’ve left without your wallet or office keys or how often you have to frantically dig through purses or pockets in search of those quarters you’re sure you have somewhere. For me, the answer to that question always resides in Pocket No. 5.