Desk Lasagna

by Gina Burgess

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:

Desk Lasagna

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Take a peek at my Desk Lasagna: Calendar is out of date; folder with bills to pay is on the far right; stacks of phone messages are somewhere on the right, and the clock is ticking telling me “time’s a-wasting”.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.

Sound familiar?

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 She also writes a weekly column at


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22 thoughts on “Desk Lasagna”

  1. I see we have a similar writing style… therefore, I enjoyed reading this post. Now I know I am not alone. After months of going through all my paperwork, filing by topic into 3-ring binders which are on my bookshelf, filing paperwork into folders in a filing cabinet, filing my emails into electronic folders, uploading documents onto Google Drive organized in folders, and filing all my digital files into folders inside folders inside folders, I STILL experience times when I don’t remember where I put something. Yesterday, I was on the hunt for a sheet with Donna Eden’s Energy Medicine exercises. I used to have it in a 3-ring binder. But the binder was no more. I thought I had kept it… or didn’t I? This morning, I found it in a file folder in one of my file cabinets. While my desk has never looked like yours did in this photo, I FEEL like it is when I even have more than 6 pieces of paper on it. I thought the search bars would work but found out not necessarily so. I consider myself a digital hoarder. I know, realistically, I will never open some of my saved files again… but save them anyway. I often wonder where in cyberspace all this data is contained. Maybe I can find a support group for digital hoarders anonymous…

    1. Renee! I’m pretty sure I am a digital hoarder, too. Let’s don’t even talk about the number of emails I’ve saved because I might need the info later. Usually, when I take the plunge and delete a bunch of them, someone says, “You didn’t tell me that,” or “Where did you get that information?” Then I can’t answer them because it’s been deleted. ZOIKS!

      We’ll be on the hunt for DHA- Digital Hoarders Anonymous, maybe they call themselves Digi-Non. 🙂

    1. RJ, Sunday is my non-day, too. Since now I do ALL my work on computer with very little paper involved, I try to clean out my inbox at the end of the day (or at least at some point in the day) because the emails are still fresh and I know what I need to keep and need to toss. But I didn’t start this system until a couple of years ago. I’ve got to clean out the archives before too long because I’ve used more than half the space Google has alloted me for email. ACK!

  2. Don Coldsmith, friend who is no longer among us, told everyone who would listen the three rules of p professional writing. He was a doctor who managed to write a daily newspaper column and turn out a very successful series of novels. The rules were and are:

    1. Write every day.
    2. Write every day.
    3. Guess what–write every day.

    It works. Make a little time. Then that lasgna will, without fail, get cooked. It has gotten me through a lot of novels. I mean writing them, not reading them.

    1. Win, I heartily agree with Don. Not sure about the lasagna getting cooked, though. However, if I don’t write everyday, I get this tenseness in my muscles and I want to put a sign around my neck that says, “Don’t poke the Bear.” LOL

  3. Most businesses have minions who take care to avoid lasagnas. Since I am an over-achieving, creative person with an editing business now in it’s 31st year, and multiple desk scrambles, I can stand on authority: lasagne, scrambles, creative chaos, is here to stay. What I have yet to try, and might, is hiring a part time office assistant. Even as a short-term experiment and expense. Why bother? The desk mess bothers me. It feels like a blockage of flow.

    1. Elizabeth, I was fortunate enough to be able to hire my ultra-organized daughter for a few months between college semesters. She was a God-send. She taught me a lot of little things to help keep me organized. Believe it or not, I had been writing down all kinds of notes to myself on little bits of paper (not sticky notes). She painstakingly wrote down every note in a spiral notebook for me along with dates if I had thought to write that down, too. Funny thing, that notebook never made it to the bottom of the pile because I used it all the time. And no, I have no idea how my daughter got so organized… maybe it was a gene from my ultra-organized mom.

  4. Cyril Connelly
    Behaved quite fonnily.
    Whether the country was at peace or fighting,
    He always claim that it kept him from writing. –Max Beerbohm

    I do my first drafts in pencil in notebooks I can carry around anywhere, and don’t start typing until they’re at least half done and I know where I want to go. I have stacks of these on my desk, as there are normally several works in progress at any given time. In November, a least this year, I’m doing NaNoWriMo (22,101 words as of this writing), so its book is on top. The books I do poetry lessons in for the class I teach on Thursdays are beneath it. Then there are letters, which I hope I’m caught up on. This month’s reading for my critique group, Utah Christian Writers’ Fellowship, is printed and in the tote I use for that. The writing desk looks thoroughly disorganized, but it isn’t. A place for everything, and everything in its place. I need the clutter, or I can’t work!

  5. Great post, Gina. I’m getting better at keeping my desk clean. Now it’s all on my computer 😉 I too have folders in folders, but it keeps thing in better order. I have a planner to try to stay on top of my duties as CSO of Christian Authors Community & Services.

  6. Gina, I was almost laughing out loud as I read about your desk and computer lasagna. The story of my life. I am not organized enough. I also feel my e-files are even worse than my paper situation. I have tried file folders on my computer but still cannot find things in a minute.
    I use binders for my actual paper IRL. That works quite well for me. Emails, pdfs, articles, WIPs…it’s an endless battle. LOL. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Lisa, I was laughing with you 😀

      I had a huge wake-up call when my older daughter took one look and called me a borderline hoarder. Wha–??? Not me! Never me. Then I noticed the expiration date on a coupon that was in layer four. Hmmm. It expired the year before. Sigh.

  7. Hello there! I enjoyed this article very much. Thanks for your insight and encouragement.

    Here are some of the things I do to keep organized:

    1) I put my emails into corresponding folders. Delete all the ones you don’t need anymore, because they’ll just make it harder to find the ones you DO need! I also find it quite a relief to go through, if you use Gmail, my “Social” and “Promotions” tab and delete or unsubscribe to things I don’t need anymore. Seeing that obnoxious amount of emails build up makes me itch to just rid myself of them all.

    2) My school bag (high school senior here!) gets cluttered pretty quickly, so when I have down time, I take everything out and separate the papers by subject and have a “trash” pile as well. I use that method for a lot of different aspects of my life, like organizing the family office.

    Sometimes I procrastinate because I feel unmotivated to do something or because I feel overwhelmed with the amount of things I need to get done. Making a checklist really helps. If you use an iPhone, there should be a little yellow notes app on there and that’s where you can make a checklist! On the newest update, I believe, it’ll even push things you’ve already done to the bottom of the list so you can focus on what you still need to do.

    Another thing I do to help me at least get motivated to organize is listen to music.

  8. You wrote: “One of the main problems/challenges that writers face is procrastination.”

    And then one day you wake up and realize how you have lived many more years than you have left to live on Earth. Thus begins a frantic, frenzied, mad dash to at the very least get down on paper what remains unwritten. Hopefully, there is still enough time left to type all that into the computer, before the rewrite, edit, copyedit, proofreading, cover, and formatting stages crash over you like ever larger waves….

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