You and that mountain of paper sitting next to you…

Paper Pulp Mountain near Wetherby.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may have noticed, as I have, that the recent economic news has resulted in a larger than usual flood of postcards, brochures, booklets, letters and junk mail from everyone you have ever done business with.

If you look to your left or right, you may find that you are sitting next to an ever growing mountain of paper, with fairly interesting time sensitive offers, and things that you might actually want to read.

Which brings us to the relationship between our time, our energy and our paper. It takes time to handle all this paper, and there is a popular myth that needs to be faced, debunked, and thrown out with the circulars.

Have you heard that you should handle each piece of paper ONCE?

While there are indeed some pieces of paper that yield to this advice, my experience is that for most paperwork, it is pure nonsense. You may need to handle a sheet of paperwork more than once for many valid reasons. You may need to make phone calls during the work week, get additional information from your files, or simply divide up the work in ways that are convenient for you.

That tinge of guilt you feel as you set aside the insurance renewal form is misplaced, and gets in the way of getting the form filled out and sent off in a prompt and timely manner. For many people, there is simply too much pressure added to the decision making process if you feel that the each of the hundreds of pages of paper that arrive every week represents a choice that has to be made “immediately, and once and for all.”

It is useful to let go of the mistaken notion that you will pick up one piece of paper and follow it uninterrupted through its trail to the filing cabinet or wastebasket. It is also useful to let go of the notion that you will necessarily do all your paperwork in one fell swoop.

The reality of handling paper.

So, what is a more reasonable expectation for handling the daily influx of paper? You may find it more useful to handle the paperwork in a series of limited scope passes. Each pass over the pile is intended to reduce, or at least maintain equilibrium over that incoming stack. For extra bonus points, dig deeper into the fray. Given how much paper everyone must handle, you may not be able to do these tasks in one sitting. If you must do a marathon session to clear out a backlog, find extra treats and rewards, and break the work up into as many sessions as you need. The goal is to keep the mood light and cheerful and the pace brisk.

Counter to conventional wisdom, if something cannot be handled in a given pass, set it aside and be willing to return to it in a later pass! The important point is do not stall out. You do not want to get stuck. Keep moving!

First pass: Into the recycling bin! When the daily mail arrives, there is usually some value in doing an immediate session to pitch out what you can. I usually toss these into a paper bag for the recycling.

Second pass: Does this require action? A quick sort of envelopes into three piles for business or personal mail requiring action, and things that are interesting but can wait. The mildly interesting pile should be kept to a limited amount, perhaps by giving it a basket of its own.

Third pass: Envelopes must go! Open up all the envelopes. This takes a shocking amount of time for the stacks that require action. Your stacks will also be smaller and less scary if you flatten them out and get rid of the extra bulk of the envelopes. Use a letter opener and some zippy music to keep the process from bogging down.

Fourth pass: Thank goodness for automation! Separate out the automatic payment statements for things that have already been paid. Separate out the investment statements. Here you are looking for things that you can quickly review, remove from the stack and file.

Fifth pass: Handle the manual payments. Pay bills for ad hoc transactions and file them.

Sixth pass: Make changes, phone calls, and clean up your messes. Much will be accomplished here in pass six! Call back anyone that needs to be called. Accounts that you are canceling. Issues that need to be resolved. Changes that you want to make to services. Appointments that you want to make. Orders that need to be placed. As each thing is resolved, file it or pitch it.

Seventh pass: Shred the Riff Raff. Shred the unwanted offers. You know the stuff… credit offers, bank checks to “improve your cash flow.” Stuff that just has no reason to be kept, but that is not safe these days to pitch into the recycling bin.

Eighth pass: Time sensitive events. Keep invitations and announcements for concerts, conferences, networking opportunities or other time sensitive events around in case you want to go someplace and do something. Every so often you will still need to sift out the things that have gone by.

Ninth pass: Thanks for the memories. Things that you want to look at and think about. It is pleasant to look at the theatre playbill for a while after a night out on the town-o. Eventually, these need to go into permanent storage, or into a scrap book, or into the recycling, depending on your level of interest in them. Give each matter only the attention that it deserves.

Tenth pass: A little light reading. You may find a quick dip into the mildly interesting pile makes a suitable reward for completing any of these stages. A stroll through a catalogue or magazine prior to pitching it out is pleasant. It does sometimes send you back to the sixth pass. When you reach the limit of what your mildly interesting basket can hold, tackle it in its own pass. Read what strikes you as interesting, and then pitch whatever is outdated. If something is very interesting, rip out the relevant pages from the magazine, and file it. You don’t have to keep the whole magazine.

Not all of this necessarily needs to be done each and every day, but some of it can be done each and every day. To the extent that you keep the sifting process flowing, the mountain of paper sitting next to you will accumulate more slowly, even if it never completely disappears. The process can be less daunting if you avoid becoming overwhelmed in your daily paper handling routine. Remember that there are papers that are simply interesting, important to keep, and worth looking at more than once. Your goal is to keep and distill the best stuff over time.


Copyright @ 2009, Catherine E. White, permission is granted for this article to be redistributed and shared with others in its entirety as long as links and attribution are maintained.

Catherine E. White is president of Llamagraphics, Inc., developer of Life Balance™ software for Mac OS X, Windows, Palm OS and iPhone. Life Balance provides a structure for your goals, projects and tasks that is priority driven, so you can to make better decisions about how to use your discretionary time. To learn more, please visit http://www.llamagraphics.com/

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Portrait of a Power Putterer

You’ve heard of the Power Nap? Power Yoga? I believe you can also use the Power Putter to good effect.

To putter, we walk around, working in an apparently haphazard or idle way. Sometimes a putter is considered a half hearted working mode. Dabbling ineffectively or mindlessly.

To Power Putter, walk around, look at a problem slowly and easily, without guilt, getting stuck, stopping, or losing faith that you’ll be able to do it. Your energy is present in a quietly productive, effective and mindful way.

Many “dreaded” projects can be accomplished using the Power Putter. The kind of project where it is easy to be intimidated by the scope of what needs to be done. Where you think the project is beyond what you can even make a dent in within the time you have to do it. Your task may even feel like it is on the wrong side of “The Tipping Point” and has submerged into overwhelm and confusion.

The magic of the Power Putter is that we are almost always wrong about that! If we start, we nearly always can have a positive impact on our target project. We can just as easily tip it back into the manageable realm.

If you are cleaning out a closet, a Power Putter might start by picking up a shoe and thinking about whether that shoe is where it belongs. If you are gardening, it might begin by pulling one blade of grass out. If you are doing your paperwork, it might begin by tossing a paper into the recycling bin, or opening an envelope.

The point is to start with a task so minor that it is almost trivially easy, and then continue as though you were unraveling a sweater by pulling on a thread. One task leads to another in a quiet and even relaxing way.

As you get into it, the tasks get a little bigger. You’ll find that you are standing on a step stool to put away a box on the upper shelf. Or that you’ve trotted off to find some storage bags and some labels.

With a Power Putter, we tinker with what we are doing. Push the idea around… gently, until the pieces start to make sense.

This weekend I used the Power Putter to tackle cleaning up my studio room, which had become a big mess over the course of the winter. There were boxes on the floor. The surface of the table had been lost. The sailing gear was out loose roaming around the room. The fiberglassing kit was more or less contained in a Rubber bin but nothing was organized or handy. The dog stuff was everywhere. Looking at the room made me feel like the room was a large disheveled closet, rather than art space, or a guest room.

So began the Power Putter. The very first thing I did was tuck the life jackets and sailing gear into their tote bags. This was a jolly thing to do, because this means we will be sailing soon. I know what should go into those bags, and there was no stress about doing that. A Power Putter always begins with a Ridiculously Easy Task. Notice that I did not go into the Studio thinking I have to clear out this whole mess today. I did not go into the Studio with a ten point plan for what was needed. I just started with the Ridiculously Easy Task, and I didn’t stop.

Next, I cleared boxes off the guest bed and stuck the linens in the wash. Then I came back, and had a notion that we might need the fiberglassing kit soon. Might be good to straighten that stuff out. So I sat on the floor and looked at what I had. Stuart’s respirator, gloves and safety glasses were not stowed well. With a few labels, and shuffling, the kit was ready for spring maintenance.

Now it was time to swap the linens to the dryer. Okay, I needed to get up and move around anyway. Stretch. Somewhere around then, I took a little break for some music and a snack. Then I went back in and noticed that the string for knot tying needed to be put away. That was easy. And that task made it possible to see that the rest of table had audio equipment and art that needed to be put away too. Some new dog gear had also started to accumulate on the table, and it really didn’t belong there. Before I knew it, the table was clear. Now I was seeing the whole structure of the project differently.

At that point, the linens were dry, and the guest bed could be made. Then, I shifted some books around to make room for the remaining photo boxes. Every so often I called Stuart in just to give a hand with something that I might struggle with alone. The key point there was that for a good putter, none of the tasks should become too frustrating. You set yourself up to keep going for as long as you like, and plan to stop before you get too tired or worn out. By that time the room was vastly improved and positively inhabitable! Also note that the room was not pristine, perfect, or prissy. It was just better and clearly more functional than it was when I started. I may need to work on it again soon, maybe next weekend.

None of it was that difficult to do. It was pleasant, cheerful, and I could think in a quiet and peaceful way about whatever I liked. The dreaded chore, rather than offering just work, also offered relaxation, calm and respite from the stresses of the week.

Next time you have a dreaded household project you think you are too tired to tackle, or that looks like a big mess, try the Power Putter approach and see if you can relax while taking positive action towards its completion. You might be surprised not only by how much you can get done by puttering, but also how refreshing it can be.


Copyright © 2009, Catherine E. White, permission is granted for this article to be redistributed and shared with others in its entirety as long as links and attribution are maintained.

Catherine E. White is president of Llamagraphics, Inc., developer of Life Balance™ software for Mac OS X, Windows, Palm OS and iPhone. Life Balance provides a structure for your goals, projects and tasks that is priority driven, so you can to make better decisions about how to use your discretionary time. To learn more, please visit http://www.llamagraphics.com/

Reliance and Mischief

Nathaniel G. Herreshoff’s Reliance 1903

As pink vertical lines began flashing their way down Stuart’s old powerbook screen, the obvious decision was to replace it with something bright and shiny, and not nearly so annoying. So, we recently acquired a new 17 inch MacBook Pro with all the extras to delight a developer’s heart.

Investing in a new Macintosh for Stuart is an easy decision. He’s able to leap tall buildings in a single “if” statement. It becomes more a matter of how fast can we get it here?

And of course, what to name it?!

Old ‘Possum might agree with us that the naming of Macs is as difficult a matter as naming cats. You want to capture the spirit of the thing.

It also seemed clear to us, that we needed a sailing theme for this one. And we started thinking that “Bristol” might be good. Bristol, being nearby in Rhode Island, and Bristol Fashion being the way to keep everything just right. However that seemed to emphasize maintenance over creativity. So we kept exploring names.

Bristol got us to thinking about Nathanael Herreshoff, who it turns out was a brilliant MIT engineering student and boat nerd, nicknamed “The Wizard of Bristol!” Stuart is also an MIT grad, and he felt a lot of kinship right away with the idea of finding a name that would make a Herreshoff connection. We were on the right track, but Herreshoff is too hard to type. Two r’s, two h’s, two f’s, two e’s but only one s and one o?

Further research and questioning got us to “Reliance” – a vessel our sailing instructor described as “his most thunderous!”

Reliance was the largest America’s Cup ship ever built. It was 143 feet and 8 inches long, and carried 16,160 square feet of sail. (A quick google search show that this is larger than the size of Howard Stern’s Mansion in the Hamptons, which has 12 baths, or the Manchester United MegaStore, which has three floors, or the entire business convention center at the Fairmont hotel in Quebec. Mind boggling!) Many thought she would be too dangerous to sail, but she did great! Reliance beat out the third and final try from Lipton’s Shamrock III.

Reliance was definitely a magnificent sailing beast! And if there ever were something that we rely on, it is Stuart’s mac! An amazing feat of engineering that inspires more amazing feats!

So, “Reliance” it is!

But, what to name the Windows partition that we run on this Mac? We settled on “Mischief!” A rival sailboat name from the same era.

:-)

Reach goals more quickly by avoiding drastic measures

We live in a nice cozy “not so big” house. This week, for a moment, I considered what it would be like to have a whole “bigger and better” house set up for entertaining… and what I really needed was to borrow two more chairs, some extra forks and a set of glassware from my mom.

With any life change, there is a temptation to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. These are changes, where we think, why not chuck it all and start over? The job that drives us nuts, the house where the closets are full to overflowing, the car that develops a hiccup — these are the kinds of events that make us think that we must take some kind of immediate action, and that sense of urgency often leads to over-reaction.

Understand the difference between small stress and big stress

However, complete change is often not necessary, and can even be counterproductive. Smaller changes might actually get us to a place of happiness quicker and with a lot less stress. Fix the car, clear out the closets, learn to delegate. However, even a small change involves some stress. The maximum size of the task you are willing to take on, the desirability of the goal or intended outcome, and the amount of stress you are willing to accept are all intertwined.

Here’s where we can make a mistake. We think that the small stress involved in making small adjustments is the big stress. This is because wet soapy babies are slippery little devils. Cleaning the closet is unpleasant, the car repair might be expensive, and we don’t know who else would want to do the hideous job task or we might be afraid to ask for help. We may be worried about our ability to learn some new skills or face a complicated situation. We may think that we are too busy to even try to open up to the possibility of doing things differently. There is some stress there already. How can we possibly consider taking on anything more?

However starting over from scratch will often throw everything into chaos. We do not alleviate our relatively small stress, we create a new overwhelming big stress. Not only is everything wet and soapy, but the baby is now crying, and we need to find a mop.

Big dreams, small tasks

I am all in favor of dreaming big, and working toward a better life, but the bigger changes do not come without their own perils that are easily overlooked in the fantasy of living in the perfect house, working at the dream job or tootling around in a snazzy new car. New house — you get to clean out ALL the closets at once! Oh joy! New job — you still need to learn to delegate or you only will have new hideous tasks to do. If you get a new car, you might have a fender bender, and still need to spend money to fix it.

The distinction here is not with size of the dream, but in the size of the task. When you know you are on your proper course and ready for the big change, the next step is usually clear and manageable and our motivation remains strong.

The small changes are often not nearly so dramatic and attention getting, but they can get us where we want to go. Borrowing a few things was easy and let me invite some people over to my humble abode. There was no upheaval, very little stress! Just an extra trip to and fro.

Keep the good stuff, and focus on the desired results

Notice also, that I did not let my thinking about the house’s inadequacies keep me from inviting people (and an extra canine) over to visit, either! Everything worked well enough. We might struggle to include more people and puppies, or we could just pile in some extra chairs and wing it! I’m willing to test the limits and see how far we can go with the existing “house.” Because being where the heart is, I know that “home” can be found here too. “Home” is worth keeping and sharing, even if the forks don’t match.

So, as you are examining those New Year’s Resolutions, and making lifestyle changes, consider carefully where small changes can begin to bring the big results you seek. Relax into the reality of making positive changes. Look at what you have, before you look at what you lack. You will make better decisions if you start with whatever strengths and resources you have rather than acting out of exasperation or a sense of deprivation.

Recognize that wiggly baby for what it is. Perhaps there are things that you love about your job, where you live, and even that old clunker of a car. Look for the keepers! Cherish the good stuff. Nurture it, and play patty-cake with it!

Then look carefully at the rest. Maybe you just need to find a nice fluffy towel.


Copyright @ 2009, Catherine E. White, permission is granted for this article to be redistributed and shared with others in its entirety as long as links and attribution are maintained.

Catherine E. White is president of Llamagraphics, Inc., developer of Life Balance™ software for Mac OS X, Windows, Palm OS and iPhone. Life Balance provides a structure for your goals, projects and tasks that is priority driven, so you can to make better decisions about how to use your discretionary time in the New Year and beyond. To learn more, please visit http://www.llamagraphics.com/

Loosen up, lighten up, shine!

In the documentation for our Life Balance software application, one of the first principles that we set forth is that “You are a valuable but finite resource.” You can’t do everything at once, and you have to make choices. Mindful choices bring better results. The topic of mindful choices from a finite pool is a discussion for another day.

But this little sentence also contains something else, which is that you are already valuable. It is inside out and backwards thinking to believe that you aren’t valuable, because you are. You have things to contribute to the world, and the world needs what you have to offer. You need what you have to offer, too. By doing some of what you most want to do, honoring your heart’s desires, you become capable of doing more. Your Life Balance capacity immediately gets bigger by eliminating the flailing, frenzy, self doubt, and worry. Fretting is often a waste of time and energy, a waste of you, and a waste of that valuable resource. If it does not serve your purpose, then set that baggage down with a satisfying thud.

Many people, including me, can lose a lot of time worrying about whether or not they are “worthy” in some way or another to do the thing that motivates them the most. Imagine someone who says, “I want to play the saxophone,” but then doesn’t play the saxophone, because they are afraid that they won’t be good enough, or as good as they used to be, or as good as someone else, or as good as someone else wants them to be. The variations on that theme are as endless and intricate as the ways to play the saxophone in the first place. Which is why the fear of not being good enough, or of making a mistake, is so damaging when it gets in the way. It either becomes an excuse for not doing anything about a cherished goal, or it wastes the time we could use to play and learn.

Playing the saxophone may be something that really stirs the heart. If you forget about that negative dialog in the background, and just pick up and play the saxophone, every day, then you will get better at it, and have the fun of doing it, and there you are. A few minutes here and there, without the fussing and worrying, and you can make real progress toward the goal, especially if you can find someone willing to show you how! There’s a lot of power in sharing your enthusiasm and interests with others.

We also sometimes think that we shouldn’t do those wonderful soul stirring things because we can’t make a living doing them. Well, that may be, but people make a living doing all kinds of weird stuff. And if need be, you can make a living at one thing, and make a life from another. Turning your back on the things that motivate you, just constricts your energy and makes everything not work as well as it ought to. Find ways to include something of that soul stirring stuff in every day. You are too valuable a resource to ignore!

Loosen up on the perfectionism of having to be immediately successful at stuff. Go ahead and play the saxophone…. badly. Offer yourself the simple joy and understanding that you already have value and a reason to be, even if nobody else gives a squeak. Bring your already valuable self to the process and watch how quickly you learn.

Let your little light shine, because one thing is for certain, there is still much need for illumination.

Enjoy your day. It belongs to you, dear hearts, and I encourage you to do something fun, creative and wonderful with it!


Copyright @ 2008, Catherine E. White, permission is granted for this article to be redistributed and shared with others in its entirety as long as links and attribution are maintained.

Catherine E. White is president of Llamagraphics, Inc. developer of the Life Balance software. Life Balance provides a structure for your goals, projects and tasks that is priority driven, so you can to make better decisions about how to use your discretionary time. To learn more about the software, please visit http://www.llamagraphics.com/

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