Saturday, March 11, 2006

I'm Grabbing My Shovel.

11:45 a.m. Saturday

I came into work at 9:00 a.m. today determined to organize something. And shortly thereafter, I found myself stumped.

It’s not that my mess is so overwhelming -- it’s just that I don’t know what to do.
My copy of David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” is in my hand, getting more raggedy by the minute as I try to figure it out.

The first step in his book is to “collect” everything and put it in a giant “in-box.” Well, I’d be here for the rest of my life!

Then you empty the in-box, according to a sensible work flow chart that he has developed. A lot of it involves making lists and then committing to weekly or daily reviews. The reviews are the key to success.

There are three troubling categories for me — “projects,” “someday/maybes” and “reference.”

Some things are projects, meaning currently active — something involving action in the next days or week or two. Inquirer projects include this series and following developments on a handful of stories. Home projects include trying to help my 11th-grader find a college.

Here’s my question: What are ideas for articles? And then, how do I handle the supporting documents for those ideas? I think the ideas are “someday/maybes.”

Reference, I’m pretty confused by -- what to keep, what to toss.

After a lot of thought and a lot of reading and re-reading — about two hours worth — I decided to “collect” two things — my emails and my idea drawer. I decided not to try to figure out my phone system.

Just for the record: As of 11:45 a.m., Saturday, I have 4335 emails in my inbox, 891 unread. Don’t be too impressed with 891 unread. That’s not as bad as it sounds. I have my email set up so that the first three lines of the text are what comes up on my screen, so even without opening them, I have a pretty good idea about their contents. It also allows me to delete many immediately, without waiting for them to open.

My plan, which I will start in about 10 minutes, is to handle 100 emails at a time, then pick one of my email folders to purge. I’ll do that for awhile, until I get disgusted, then I’ll switch to handling the ideas.

As for the ideas: The way I have kept my ideas organized in the past is through a simple numbered list on a Microsoft Word document on my computer, which is matched by a similarly numbered file folder in my closest drawer for supporting material. The reason it’s not alphabetized is because I don’t want to narrow my thinking into one word — usually my idea is a sentence or a paragraph.

Also, I don’t want to waste file folders - I use them at least twice. Once an idea is over, I can toss the material out and put something else in. The ideas can be big or little. A big idea would be a thorough look at overtime, which is a topic I find interesting. A small idea would be a one-time profile of a person or a company.

The flaw has not been a regular review of the ideas. That will change.

Well, it’s a lot more fun to write about this then do it, so I better quit and get to work. I’ll report back in a few hours — if I survive.

1:00 p.m. Saturday:

I promptly abandoned my plan of going through the e-mails.

Instead I set up e-mail folders, or what David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done,” would call buckets.

There is now a much simpler structure, with the following folders:
-- Companies, for the companies I cover, such as IKON or CDI.
-- Current, for e-mails related to my current stories.
-- Ideas.
-- Inquirer, for procedures, memos and updates on our company being sold.
-- Nice Stuff, for nice comments from readers or colleagues to look over when I get discouraged.
-- Personal, cute e-mails from the kids, update on soccer practice (not for me!), book group info.
-- Reference
-- Tickler, which is folders set up by date.

The reference file is a mess, because it now contains many random folders on topics that had just been scattered around my e-mail inbox. But at least they are together, and I can cull them bit-by-bit.

Now I’m going through my idea drawer and tossing out stale, stale, stuff. Check out this headline: “Hispanic market tops $235 billion in 1995.”

4:00 p.m. Saturday

Still haven’t gotten near my e-mail but I did trim down my idea drawer from over 200 ideas, many of them more than 10 years old! Now there are 15, most of them current, but none particularly pressing.

Most of the pressing ones are on piles on my desk, or on scraps of paper, somewhere. That’s because my idea system had become so unwieldy that I wasn’t even writing them down anymore.

Part of this feels good — I feel lighter.

But there’s another sad part to it and I’m beginning to understand why I’m so reluctant to toss stuff related to story ideas.

Whenever I have a good idea for a story and I don’t write it, I feel guilty. We probably all feel like that about our projects. Sometimes I know I’ve let people down — people who have an important story to tell and rely on me to tell it. Sometimes I know I’ve let our readers down because I haven’t been able to get to an interesting story or tell them about an interesting idea or debate.

As long as the ideas were on my desk or on a list, I could have hope that maybe I would do them. All those ideas in piles, drawers, lists represent the possibility of redemption for the stories and for me. Maybe we all need to forgive ourselves sometimes.


Well, I'm going to get a cup of tea and start shoveling e-mails!

6:30 p.m. Saturday
I am really beat. But, I did get through 110 e-mails in a very disciplined way! First-one-first, answering and dealing with each as instructed in the David Allen book. In some cases, the e-mails went to a reference file, in other cases into an action file and quite a few went into the "Digging Out" project file. Lots of deletes, too. It took me about two hours to get from 4,335, which is what I had at 11:45 a.m. to 4,233, which is what I have now. I also processed all that came in during that time.

My biggest triumph was sticking with the methodical, one at a time approach. But, I can't spend two hours a day on this. Maybe as they get older, they'll be easier to dump.


Blogger V said...

Hi, I really enjoyed your post. I keep Word documents to keep track of plot & characters for my book and for snippets of ideas for poetry. I really like the plug-in feature on Word that allows direct blogline posting.

5:06 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home