Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Rich and the Messy

Today, after a week, I finally opened my mail to find a letter from retired engineer Donald Ironside, of Havertown. He sent along a 1990ish photo, possibly from Forbes magazine, of Fayez Sarofim, an extremely successful businessman, standing amongst the piles in his office. The office itself is gorgeous, paintings, paneling, leather. But the piles are everywhere and if the man gets too aggressive with his rolling chair, he'll run right over them.

Don writes, "Maybe the enclosed photocopy of zillionaire Fayez Sarofim's office will help. It certainly gave me heart." Don's message to me was that some people need their piles and "you should operate to suit your needs." Again, proof to me that the Inquirer's readers are among the most generous and encouraging of any newspaper anywhere, I am sure.

That being said, here are two more tips that I gleaned from my month-long journey into the world of the organized. See Monday's blog for tips one and two.

Tip Three: Collect at least some of what you want to sort into one box so that your desk is clear. If you have more stuff than will fit, leave the surplus where it is. Instead, write yourself a note and put it in the bottom of the box. The note might say, “clean out third file drawer.” When your sorting bring you at last to the note, your box will be empty. Now you can fill it with the contents of the file drawer. Repeat as needed.

Tip Four: Switch back and forth between two tasks - creating new systems that reflect your work style, and dealing with items in your collection box. The reason to alternate is that the items in the box will help to suggest the system, and the system will help you decide what to do with the items in the box.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Speaking of Disorganization....

Sometimes our newspaper is a little disorganized. Part of it is the nature of the product. Can you imagine putting out a newspaper every day with so many different sections and stories, each requiring attention to every comma, plus headlines and photo captions? We make plans, but as the news changes throughout the day, so do the plans. It is always very fluid and sometimes confusing.

All this is by way of introduction to what will follow in some future blogs here. One of the articles planned the final Sunday "Digging Out" package didn't make it in the paper on April 9. It was an article of hints and lessons I had learned in the course of doing the series. So I'm going to break up the story and serve a hint or so on Mondays and Wednesdays. Our online honchos at the paper say people like these blogs short and I believe them. Sorry I've been guilty for writing so long in the past.

By the way, I remain at 240 emails, down from 4330.

Here comes my first tip -- these are all based on the work I did for myself, my sessions with my organizer, my interviews and observations of other organizers and the half-dozen or so books that I read or skimmed.

Tip One: Start by spending some time, but not too much, tossing obvious clutter — for example, I threw out files from companies no longer in business. That will give you a little room to set up your new organizational system. But don’t get caught up in this process, because it is not the most important work.

Tip Two: Thinking is the most important work.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Great News!

Thanks to all of you, my colleagues this afternoon gave me the Ralph Vigoda Award for journalism. This is an Inquirer award named after one of our former colleagues, a kind-hearted and diligent journalist who died prematurely. We all miss him and to honor him, our newspaper gives an award each month to a reporter who exemplifies his fine qualities.

I'm not sure whether Ralph had a clean desk or not -- he worked in our Conshohocken office and I'm in Philadelphia. But I know he brought a rabbit into work. No further comment!

Anyway, they picked me! I am thrilled and I want to thank you, the readers of the paper and of this blog for all your help. When I gave my acceptance speech, I said how wonderful our readers are and they truly are. So thank you. Sorry this sounds delirious. I am extremely happy and excited about this honor. Thanks again.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Back At Work

Having gotten down to 280 emails, I was petrified about what would happen when I returned from vacation. Oddly, it wasn't bad -- my total just topped 600. Now I have to see if I can maintain the system I devised. It's still difficult figuring out how to sort out various story ideas and distinguish them from research files.

It was fun at Easter at church. One of the retired ladies told me that she has cleaned up her entire paper-laden dining room thanks to me. So, this has been satisfying. One person wrote in that she has my article taped to her bathroom mirror for inspiration. I told her I tape mine to my bathroom mirror too, but that's too avoid looking at myself! Sometimes you need a cup of coffee before that's a safe bet.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I'm Taking My Shovel and Going Home

It's 8 p.m. on a Friday night and I'm done Digging Out for now. My stories are written and should appear in the Inquirer on Sunday and Monday. My desk is relatively neat. Emails are down to 280. I wanted to get to 200, but enough is enough. I'm not quitting though. Zero is my goal!

Next week I'll be off, so I won't be blogging at all. When I get back, we'll pick up where we left off. I hope you've enjoyed reading this. Please let me know what you thought of the whole series.

Thanks for all your help and support.

They Love Their Labelmakers

In the process of working on this "Digging Out" series, I've met a lot of office organizers. And I have to tell you, they love their labelmakers.

One of them actually posed for a picture in the Inquirer with the label maker and propped it up front and center for the photographer. Another organizer, when she found out I wanted to turn my manilla file folders inside out to re-use them, wanted to paste labels over my old scribblings. Even David Allen, the bestselling author of "Getting Things Done" advocates labelmakers, as in you must, must, must get a labelmaker.

I say, I must, must, must get a haircut.

They say it shows commitment to the organizing process. I say it shows that they should be committed.

What's up with this? Are they paid by the labelmaking companies? Do they get a cut on every one sold? Maybe a lifetime supply of free labels!

We'd all like things neat and tidy, but I've got better things to do with $40 -- even if the better thing is to go out for some beers to celebrate an ever-cleaner desk, or to celebrate an even-larger mess. I'll raise a glass to the label-making crowd and to the rest of us too. God bless us all.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Digging Out Daily

You can have a clean desk, but it'll slide into chaos in a matter of weeks without maintenance.

Maintenance means continuing good habits of dumping emails. Maintenance means not letting things pile up. Maintenance means continuing to dig out, since I have not reached my all my goals. Maintenance means the continual culling of old files, both computer and paper. Maintenance means washing my coffee cups out at night, or at least most nights.

So what I'm thinking about now is how I can set up some sort of review process that is not onerous and limiting.

Here is my current plan:

Fridays (Looking ahead):
-- Look over my computer and paper ticker files week.
-- Look over my calendar for the next week.
-- Make sure all story files are cleaned up from the previous week. That means record phone numbers, organize notes, toss the junk, note the story on my list and file the file.
-- Think about upcoming stories. Make a list of what must be done on Monday.
-- Write an email to my various bosses letting them know my plans for the coming week.
-- Try to read over my story idea list to see if anything seems very exciting for a story to start on next.

(I estimate that this process should take one hour).

Daily Dig Out (Looking back):
Set my new kitchen timer for 15 or 20 minutes, depending on how much I can stand and then work on the following ongoing projects, without too much stress or heavy goal-setting. Stop at 20 minutes:
-- Continue to whittle down emails with the goal of 100 or less in my inbox -- 0 is my actual goal.
-- Go through my mail crate that has my last piles and cull for ideas or reading material.
-- Begin to transfer my phone numbers into Outlook using a procedure outlined by one of my colleagues.
-- Go through reference files on my computer and cull old emails.

Monthly Dig Out (Looking back and ahead):
-- Once a month use one or two of my daily 20 minute "Dig-Outs" to go through old story files. These are now catalogued by the month. So in May, I will go through old files from May 2005, 2004 and so forth. Be aware of possible story ideas. (I estimate this activity will take me 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the number and size of the files).
-- Throw out any magazines I haven't read, first cutting out important articles and properly filing them. (I estimate this activity will take me less than half an hour).
-- Look over the idea file more carefully. Jettison tired ideas to make room for the new.

Of course, this very Friday, this plan will fail, because I'm taking a week off and as soon as I can reasonably leave, I will. You know what? Life comes first.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Not All Babies Are Beautiful

This morning Susan Sabo of Organizers Inc. and I went to visit Jamie Joffe, the harried publicist who couldn't keep up with the business end of her home-based public relations company.

Well, it was all my fault, but we ended up doing a lot of chatting and not so much organizing. It was really funny to hear Susan's cynical take on the advice from Philadelphia executive coach Marty Sikora. I printed his comments in an earlier post titled Give Yourself A Break. Essentially he said that most people don't change very quickly, so it makes a lot more sense to take very small steps, become accustomed to those changes and then change more.

Susan's reaction was a dubious roll of the eyes. Susan had sent me an email about it from her West Chester office. I will print it here, so you can read between the lines yourself.

"This post is charming! I appreciate the coach’s approach to baby steps and more importantly, keeping your energy working on the really important things.

Encouraging a client to move very slowly is also a great way to have a long relationship.

Using Mr. Sikora’s analogy for weight loss, the 30% of Americans who are extremely obese would spend the rest of their lives taking baby steps to get to a ‘normal’ weight. In the meantime they’re likely to suffer many of the ill affects of obesity including hypertension, diabetes, and ridicule.

As productivity professionals we are about getting things done. We have clients who don’t enjoy the label colleagues give them for having a messy office because it is incongruent with their professional abilities. They have missed too many deadlines and opportunities. Or, perhaps they want to use the money they’re paying in late fees and interest on their clutter-buried credit card bills for an assistant or something fun.

Many folks who work with us productivity specialists often have "aha" moments and epiphanies. By working with us they get skills that the education system didn’t deliver for them. We develop systems that they couldn’t develop themselves. These systems often result in quick organization of an office because papers and information have a path and way to flow.

Our clients have moved up the corporate ladder or expanded their own business and are handcuffed by the need to handle so many more related tasks. We have the key to unlock those handcuffs with new procedures and routines.

One of my clients managed a manufacturing plant with a budget in the tens of millions dollars. He had evolved skills at working with people and is a genius with special knowledge in biology and manufacturing. He wasn’t so good at putting paperwork and magazines in the right place, and he had 8,000+ messages in his inbox. He kept everything just in case.

We removed nearly a ton of papers from his 12 x 12 office and created easy guidelines for paper retention as well as a supporting filing system. He then used the email system’s mailman to manage the hundreds of emails received every day. In six sessions he ended with an attractive office that matches his professional abilities. He is calm when collecting information for a meeting and can do it in minutes. He can even have meetings with his staff in his office rather than the conference room down the hall.

He could have taken one small stack at a time and would have been on the effort for the rest of his career."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I Am A Complete Idiot

Am I the only one that has lived for 50 years without knowing that you can take an ordinary manilla file folder, fold it along some lines along the bottom and turn it into a flat-bottomed file?
It then can hold more papers without them spilling over the top.

My organizer, Queen Jeanine Baron, of Streamliners Inc. taught me that yesterday. I think it is the equivalent of saying, "Oh boy, I learned that you have to turn the faucet to get water out of the spigot!" So far, everyone I have talked to knew this already. Unbelievable!

If anyone else didn't know this, please blog immediately so we can join each other in the solidarity of stupidity.

Monday, April 03, 2006

My Co-Workers Are Mocking Me

But I don't care. When my desk is clean and organized, I will just laugh right back. Actually I'm not surprised they are laughing. No one in this place has ever seen a bucket within two blocks of his cubicle. It's such a strange sight. Once there was a camel in the Inquirer newsroom. That is a true story. It was certainly odd. But then, so is a bucket.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Bucket and a Shovel

6:30 p.m. Sunday
It's 6:30 p.m. on a Sunday night and I'm here at the office -- with a shovel and a bucket. It's blue to match my eyes and filled with lavender smelling detergent. Tonight's the night I'm going to clean my desk and surroundings.

Our newsroom is actually a gorgeous workspace. Just so you can picture it -- it is the former pressroom, so it has tall industrial windows and a high enough ceiling to accommodate the presses, which were huge machines. The room, painted white, takes up most of the block between Broad and Fifteenth Street. Old photos show the Inquirer of yesteryear. I like the old newsroom and another one of horses lined up on 15th Street ready to pull the delivery wagons. Maroon banners designating the departments hang from huge industrial pillars strong enough to support this floor and the presses that it once held.

On the other hand, it is dirty and it's mostly our fault. You've seen my picture in the paper, but I am not the messiest, not even close! We like our newspapers piled around us. We like our files. We like a certain sense of chaos and irreverence of place. We find our newsroom more stimulating than messy. Also there's a certain sense of live and let-live.

But I have no plans to let the dust live on my desk beyond tonight and tomorrow. This project will be over in a week, and I want it be good and look good.

9:30 p.m. Sunday
I'm quitting because I'm confused about what to actually do with some of the stuff on my desk. Plus I have to pick various boys up in various locations. I washed one part of my desk and a shelf underneath my desk.