Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wouldn't It Be Nice?

Because I've watched a couple of these organizers work, I know that they'll either ask one of two questions, which are related. One is "What bothers you the most?" and the other is "What would this look like if it were perfect?" In the motivational and organizational books that I've been reading, the second question is key -- "envision the outcome."

So what would be a perfect day?

I would come into work calm, coffee in hand, and perhaps not even turn on the computer until I had gone into a confererence room with a couple of newspapers. I would have a schedule of a about a dozen websites I would read sporadically over the course of a week or two for updates. Ideally, I should spend about an hour on this, including reading the many magazines and trade journals I receive. Some mornings, at least once a week, I would abandon this plan in favor of having coffee with a thinker or idea person on my beat, just to chat about the world of work, which is my world, as a writer here at the Inquirer .

Then, I would look over the day's events and check my email. Checking the email can take a lot of time, because I get about 75 to 100 a day. Our Philadelphia Inquirer business department publishes a newsletter, and that has an early deadline, so if there is anything to be written I must do that. Right now I am blogging, and that has to be done early, because online readers supposedly like to peruse their computers at lunch.

Then I would move into the events of the day, interviews, phone calls and writing, able to make clear decisions about what stories I should be handling and what I should be either trying to pawn off on someone else or ignoring.

The pace builds, particularly if there's a story for the next day's paper -- then my life is quite intense from about 2 to 6:30 p.m. The pace also builds throughout the week as we prepare for the weekend papers, which are largely produced in advance. I often work late on Thursday nights -- anywhere from 9 to midnight -- because I want to make sure my weekend stories are written so my editors can have them when they arrive Friday morning, our busiest day of the week.

Of course my desk would be relatively neat with very few piles of papers. My phone numbers would be organized and I would be disciplined about entering every business card I get into some sort of contacts system. I have huge stacks of them now -- here, at home, in coat pockets, on my dresser, on the kitchen counter. Not good. Every phone number/email from a story would be duly noted in my phone lists.

This all sounds quite nice, but in reality, there are lots of duties competing for the first hour of my day, which in theory is supposed to run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., like most reporters at the Inquirer.

Sometimes I spend the first hour on myself. We tend to work late here and if I want/need/deserve time for myself, I need to take that time in the morning so I can still recover if an emergency daily story comes my way. Those days I might not come in until 10:30 or 10:45. What am I doing? I'm at home cleaning the bathrooms, studying Spanish, exercising at the gym, or volunteering at my kids' school.

As we start marching toward deadline, my flexibility decreases and there is little likelihood of getting out early -- by early I mean at 5. The end of the day is less predictable and when I get home -- usually around 7 or 7:30, I am really very tired. My eyes hurt and my arms hurt and I can just about handle making dinner and folding laundry. In fact, the laundry folding is therapeutic.

Well, we'll see what Queen Jeanine, (Jeanine Baron, Streamliners Inc., Blue Bell) says about all this. I'm looking forward to meeting her.

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