Sorting Through a Messy Desk

Discover a way to handle the I’ll-get-to-that-later pile of small and miscellaneous jobs that gets out of hand until it threatens to overwhelm you. There was a method I used in ironing in the old days that translates well for me in the office. What works for you?

Using the Ironing Basket Approach To Tackle I’ll-Get-to-This-Later Jobs

As I waited this morning for the results of the biopsy I had yesterday — and which came back NEGATIVE, hooray! horray! shortly after I finished the blog — I channeled my energy into tackling my I’ll-get-to-this-someday pile. You see, I enjoy working on major projects, like writing a book, but in the process keep pushing the small and medium jobs to the side until they pile up to the ceiling a little like the in-box of this poor lady.

Overflowing in-basketYet even when I’ve not buried myself in a project, I’m not good at handling each email, each bill, each request for information, each phone message as it arrives. I admire those who do! Instead, I frequently put emails aside “for awhile” so I can think more clearly about what I want to say. Okay, maybe I just imagine that waiting will make my answer more brilliant, but it’s a good rationalization. However, the truth is that I get more incoming missiles than I have time to respond to, so the pile gets higher and higher.

Eventually, of course, there is a day of reckoning. The association dues have to be paid, the people you met at the last conference have to be contacted if they are to be of any value to your business, the permission requests have to be sent to publishers, there are only so many sorry-I-forgot-your-birthday cards you can send without feeling like a lousy friend (or in my case, like a really neglectful grandmother when in February I missed the birthday of my grandson and son-in-law, as well as two other close relatives).

This is when I use what I call my “Ironing Basket Approach.”

You’ll understand why I refer to this method by that name if you’re old enough to remember ironing before we got permanent press and steam irons, or if you remember your mother talking about it. We would sprinkle the clothes with a coke bottle that had a cork with holes in it and was filled with water. After we’d sprinked the clothes, we’d wait awhile so dampness could spread evenly through each piece. Then came the decision of how to proceed with the actual ironing – a chore few but the most compulsive homemakers, or children thereof, enjoyed.

There were basically three approaches. One was to take the biggest pieces and iron them first so that the hardest work would be over when the more numerous smaller pieces were left – hankies, napkins, t-shirts, etc. Another way to do it was to tackle the many small pieces first, leaving only a few larger ones. Then there was the approach I tended to follow: close my eyes, reach into the basket, and iron whatever piece I happened to touch.

Today it’s definitely my least frustrating way of dealing with all those small and medium-sized jobs that have been neglected far too long. Rather than continually sorting the bigger pile into smaller piles, I just put my hand on the next piece of paper that comes up and handle it.

Empty in-basketDon’t expect to get anywhere near to the efficiency of the woman on the right who managed to completely empty her in-box, but eventually I hope to whittle the jobs down to something more manageable.

After that I must tackle the job of cleaning out tens of thousands of files on my computer. Now it takes too long to find lots of important information I need for writing. The problem, of course, is that what seems a reasonable folder in which to file a document or picture, or what is a reasonable name for the title of a document or picture one day doesn’t make sense two years later (and sometimes sooner). I realize that I’ll end up making a “project” out of computer-sorting for a couple weeks, which will mean email and other stuff will begin to pile up, but perhaps I can stay ahead of it this time.

Anyway, writing the blog was a job that came up next in the “ironing basket” today and now that I’ve finished it, I can go on to the next thing.

What method do you use when you are overwhelmed with small and moderate jobs you can ignore — but only up to a point?

3 thoughts on “Sorting Through a Messy Desk

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