Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Life Management 101--Where Did All This Paper Come From?

Laura Stack's Find More Time:  How to Get Things Done at Home, Organize Your Life, and Feel Great About It is the current resource for Life Management 101 Tuesdays, as we make our way through her eight pillars of personal productivity.  This week, we examine Chapter 6, "Mastering the Sixth Pillar--PAPER."

Here, Stack provides insight and advice to those of us hip-deep in the dross of dead trees.  You know, the paper, paper and more paper that spills from countertops, obscures desk surfaces, fills our cars, and layers our lives.  As with each pillar, we begin our paper pushing with a 10-item quiz to diagnose the extent of our affliction.  (You can find the entire productivity quiz on Stack's website.)  I should not have been shocked that my score revealed a weakness in this area.  But really, I didn't realize my little problem was as bad as it is.  For each of the items below, I determined which of the following response categories was most descriptive:  1) to no extent; 2) to a little extent; 3) to some extent; 4) to a considerable extent; or 5) to a great extent.  My responses are in red.

To what extent do I . . . 
  • Consistently purge my files without fear.  [1]
  • Create and maintain a filing system that allows me to find papers easily.  [2]
  • Follow a daily processing system for staying on top of the mail and paperwork.  [1]
  • Handle bills in a timely fashion and keep up with recordkeeping.  [2]
  • Know where to put every piece of paper I receive.  [1]
  • Handle phone calls and voice mail productively.  [2]
  • Use technology to reduce paper and complete tasks quickly.  [2]
  • Keep insurance, medical documents, wills, and important papers up-to-date and easy to locate.  [2]
  • Use a calendar system to track family members' schedules. [2]
  • Organize and keep up with my reading.  [2]
Okay, so I'm drowning in paper.  But what can I do about it?  And is Laura Stack's approach likely to work for me?  

I'm beginning to think the answer is no, for the most part.  Her advice involves the kind of total life-revamp, relying on complicated systems and routines that I used to find appealing, and to devour regularly.  Until I foundered on the rocks of what sociologists call praxis--i.e., application or use of knowledge or skills.  

I can't use a tickler file, as Stack prescribes, because I can't care enough about adhering to it for longer than a few days.  I can't stay on top of my mail, or the notes from my meetings, because I am regularly interrupted by one crisis or another before I can complete the necessary ministrations, the sorting, discarding, delegating, execution and organization.  I can't maintain even the most basic filing system because I would rather watch a basketball game with my family than shuffle through records, warranty cards, and insurance policy updates.  

I admire people like Stack who can accomplish these things, and have enough control to sustain the necessary resolve and focus to keep it together.  But the combination of prescription and my perfectionism strengthen my desire to avoid such undertakings.  Or maybe I'm just too lazy.

I would love to get out from under all the paper, though.  What I need is a much lower maintenance design.  A little less fairy tale, a little more down and dirty.  I think I'll try to wade through the diabolical Health Insurance Pile, maybe an inch at a time; go through the drawer crammed with meeting notes, agendas, financial reports, etc.; and aim to get all the new junk mail thrown out each week.  Far from the order Ms. Stack details, but probably the best I can do at this point. 

Up next, Post--one of my less horrible pillars.  (Stack's usage of the term "post" reflects her military family's understanding, meaning one's assignment and set of responsibilities, inside and outside of the home.)  Six pillars down, two more to go.  

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