One of the main problems/challenges that writers face is procrastination. Admit it. We keep putting off writing for one reason or another, but what it boils down to is that we find something we think is more important to do than writing that article or finishing that chapter.
I have such a problem with desk lasagna, I have this article out of my archives numerous times to help me get better organized. And the problem keeps reappearing. Go figure. I wrote this article for the Chamber of Commerce newsletter way back in 2009 then updated it as a LinkedIn article in 2016.So here is a glimpse back in time to 2016:
I kept putting off writing this last week because I thought I had just too much on my plate to take time for it. I thought other things were more important. Well, I just sent my new book, When Christians Hurt Christians, off to the proofreader’s so I don’t have any more excuses to set things aside, or on top of everything else.
Back when I was living in a paper world – we are supposed to be living in a paper-free society now, did you know?—it was the desk lasagna that got in my way. I suddenly found that I was closed in and had a 5” x 10” space to write in, and that all my layers had closed in over things I needed. This reminded me of how much worldly things close in around me, and I let God’s word sit on the side. David didn’t let that happen very often. He penned the words, “What is man that Thou are mindful of Him?” Solomon wrote, “Don’t procrastinate– there’s no time to lose.” I have been searching scripture for God’s promises and I just did not have time this week for my usual study, so I offer this bit of advice this week. Don’t do as I did.
I am quite sure there are things on your desk that you’ve pushed to the side because other things seem more important. Maybe that spreadsheet that you’ve got on your computer all set up for this year’s budget needs filling in, or that cute cartoon about Maxine, you simply must read to the very end.
Here’s my desk lasagna in 2009
Take a peek at my Desk Lasagna: Calendar is out of date; folder with bills to pay is on the far right; stacks of phone messages are somewhere on the right, and the clock is ticking telling me “time’s a-wasting”. That’s just the top layer. My inbox with stacks of things that I haven’t looked at in several days, far, far right. And top left my computer box because I don’t want to put it on the floor (it’s new, you see). Center front my new book I just sent to my proofreader, and next to it is the book I’m to post a review for today … quadruple sigh. Somewhere over there is a box of Kleenex, but I haven’t seen it for a couple of weeks. Then there’s the phone that keeps getting lost under papers. If I don’t remember to put my keys in my purse, they get lost under yesterday’s mail which has been opened, but not filed, yet.
I searched the world over and found some very interesting facts. The UK newspaper, The Telegraph, reported in 2013 a study found that a messy office makes one more creative and more receptive to new things and ideas. There is Nancy Schimelpfening—I dare you to say that out loud three times fast—who wrote How to Stop Procrastinating. This is an extremely good article and may help you if you’ve got a problem with procrastination, or even if you don’t.
Depressed, distracted, defiant?
Nancy has done a lot of research and says that we procrastinate because we’re depressed. Well, I have to beg to differ. Who has time to be depressed? I’m just drowning in paper lasagna. However, she did divide the types of procrastination that may make sense to you such as the difficulty of organizing all the different communication threads, or having too many tasks that one is overwhelmed, or feeling rebellious over routine and schedules. Yes, absolutely, I identify. Another type is difficulty in keeping on track (getting sidetracked with Maxine cartoons), or sidetracked with internet searches, and tweaking my blog so I can sell my book from it.
See how easy it is to get sidetracked?
Nancy (I’m going to call her Nancy because I cannot pronounce her last name) says hostile feelings toward someone can make you put off getting things done to punish them [insert shocked look here]. Maybe if I were a psychologist or counselor I’d understand this one. I cannot imagine anyone deliberately shooting themselves in the foot, or setting themselves up to get fired because of hostile feelings… but, it takes all kinds, I guess. Fearing disapproval, Nancy says is another reason. Then there is the rebellious feelings brought on by routine and a hectic schedule. I can certainly identify with that one, and that could be a whole different discussion. Believe me, I know that procrastination has many different facets and symptoms.
A particular problem is not adhering to the “Touch Paper Only One Time” rule. Open the letter, read it and then file it where it belongs. Finish reading a newsletter… industry magazine… update or whatever, then file it for future reference or file in the trash, just get it off the desk top. But here is some crucial advice: Don’t forget where you put it. I’ve done that numerous times.
One time a long time ago I couldn’t put my hand on something within a couple of minutes, and my new boss flailed me over it. Most people don’t have petty bosses like that, but I did learn I needed a better filing system for organization. I began to use ring binders for filing. It took a whole Saturday to organize my piles of paper into several stacks: Management Updates, Training Materials, Motivational Ideas, Interoffice Memos, Reading, and so on. That drastically decreased the top layer, second layer, and remarkably dented the third layer of paper. Yes, the paper pile was that deep. Voila! I could quickly find things I needed. I still have some of those three ring binders.
Grab that phone message and write down the name and number, or type it into your contacts list, or however you keep track of your contacts, then throw the message away. Your secretary has the carbon copy of it in her little book, at least my assistant did. Today, I don’t have an assistant, but I’m not getting 30 to 40 messages a day, either. Let’s just say, I have every message that has been given to me, except the exact one I need, which includes every business card that has been put into my hand. Now, that is daunting. How will I ever find that phone number if I have to dig through 100 messages?
Perhaps you don’t have stacks of phone messages, but you’ve got stacks of things that you want to keep for future reference, to read, or to study. If you don’t want to make a binder for them, make a file marked “Reading.” When you go on a trip, or don’t have a book to read at the doctor’s office, take that folder with you and you’ve got something productive to do. How hard is that to do? Evidently, very hard because I have, wait let me count them… forget it, I lost count of the things I need to read to keep up.
Is paperless any better?
Today, almost all of my work materials are on my computer. My research, my writing materials, even my correspondence because today email has become the premier form of business communication. Ever tried to find one email among 800? At least when organizing by name of person, it is a bit easier to find a particular email by searching for subject.
When moving toward this electronic storage system, I had the same unorganized trouble, only it became computer lasagna. Of course you know this already, but I had to discover the best use of file folders within file folders. Just having one folder that I put all my research work in became worse than desk lasagna. I’ve transferred my filing system to electronic folders, but had to figure out a way to find things quickly because searching folders for a specific report or paper was tedious when I didn’t remember the name of it. Besides, it took forever to find things that way. (I had not yet mastered the Art of the Search. You know, type what you are looking for into the search box and let ‘er rip!)
I carved the folders into subject matter, then inside folders with subheadings, and even have folders three and four deep. With three clicks I can put my eyes on the specific thing I need. I’m not drowning in paperwork anymore, and my desk is clean believe it or not. I’m not wasting time hunting for things I need to finish a column or article. My research has become much more valuable because I can find what I need quickly. Also, I can decide what I’ll write about much more quickly as well.
So how about you? Will you help me, and others that happen to read this column? What tips, tricks, and special discoveries do you have to make your life more organized? I would love to hear about them. I’m always looking to better organize myself!
Gina Burgess is an editor, illustrator, and author. She is COO of Common Sense Marketing Strategies, LLC and AuthorsCommunity.net. She also writes a weekly column at LiveAsIf.org