Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Getting Organized

I think I've got the major surgery on the proposal for the New Project done. Now I just need to re-read to see if it still makes sense. Then I'll give it a day to rest, and then read it out loud to myself to check the wording.

Meanwhile, I'm on yet another efficiency/organization kick. I'm trying the time-management trick of tracking exactly how I spend my time. I've played with that in the past, but that was more time-tracking the way I did when I worked for a PR agency and we had to show how we were allocating time among clients (most of these were retainer clients, so we didn't actually bill them for this time, but it was how we theoretically managed staffing). But that was usually more of an estimate at the end of the day, very heavily rounded up to 15-minute increments. Do one task that takes 5 minutes, and that counted as 15 minutes devoted to the client. I assigned "client" categories to various functions I do now, like writing, marketing, etc., and then tracked time that way to make sure I was working enough and taking enough time off. The problem was, I only kept up with that when I wasn't that busy. When I really was working, it tended to slide.

But since I've been complaining so much about not seeming to get much work done while also not really having time for fun, I'm trying to track how I really spend my time. I keep a notepad handy and am writing down exactly when I start doing something and when I stop. Of course, this then becomes inaccurate because you change your behavior the moment you start tracking it. If you have to write down that you spent half an hour reading forums at Television Without Pity, then you're less likely to do so. But since the idea is to manage time better, I guess the results are the same. I'm not trying to give up all fun stuff and time wasting, as one of the reasons I'm willing to put up with the financial insecurities of not having a day job is that I want to have non-working time in my life. I'm just trying to make sure that I don't spend so much time on quasi-fun that I don't have time for real fun or real work.

One concept in all the material on uncluttering and organization that I keep reading about that I think I need to work on is the idea of the landing strip/launch pad. That's the spot where things come into the house and are sorted for being moved where they belong, and then the place where things that need to be taken out are collected, as well as a definite place to find things like keys or cell phone. I seldom have trouble finding my keys, but the mail has been the bane of my existence for a while.

The way things are now, everything gets dumped on the bar in the living room, which makes the living room look messy. I do put the "real" mail aside, then the junk mail piles up because I don't want to throw it away without shredding it, but I also don't bother with shredding it at the moment. Then there's the questionable mail -- it's from a real company I do business with, so it could be real, but they also send me a ton of junk mail, so it often gets tossed into the junk mail pile if it doesn't look like their usual bills. Also in that category is mail I probably need to look at and maybe even file, but it's not something that requires action. As a result, the bar gets covered in stuff until I do the next major housekeeping purge and shred-a-thon. The bar is definitely a clutter "hot spot" in my house, and that clutter seems to attract other clutter. It also makes the clutter spread because then things I don't want to lose get put elsewhere, and that then becomes a clutter magnet.

I tried moving the "landing strip" to my office, so at least the living room wouldn't be a mess. In my office, I tried the "43 folders" system, where you have a folder for each day of the month and then each month, and you stick things as you get them in the folder for the day you need to deal with them, then each day you get that day's folder to see what you need to do. That never got off the ground. About the only stuff I get that requires action on a specific date is bills, and I don't have a problem with bills. It's the stuff without a specific date that's the problem. I've also tried an accordion folder for mail I need to deal with, but it tends to get forgotten in there. I also don't manage to get the mail upstairs to my office because it still gets dumped downstairs, and besides, my check book for paying the bills is in my purse, which is downstairs. That means I have to take the mail upstairs to sort, then when it's time to pay bills, I have to take them back downstairs.

My parents suggested some kind of writing desk or a campaign desk that can sit on top of the bar, something with cubbyholes I could use for sorting mail. Now I'm wondering if maybe I should put that sort of thing in my bedroom. It's right inside the front door, so it has that convenience factor. I could put the shredder in there and some kind of cubbyhole thingy on top of a bookcase. If I get the current pile under control, then it would only take a few minutes when I get the mail to open it all, sort the things that need to be dealt with into cubbyholes relating to urgency, put things that just need to be filed in an out-tray and shred everything else. It's near where I have the checkbook, and all of it stays out of the living room.

Any other suggestions? It helps that I think I finally got most of the airlines to quit sending me credit card applications by writing in giant letters with a Sharpie "take me off your mailing list" over the applications and sending them back in the postage-paid envelopes. Now if I could just stop my bank from sending me their weekly application for the credit card I already have. Then there's the carpet cleaning company that sends their ads in envelopes that look like party invitations or greeting cards. And all the hotels/resorts that send me invitations for weekends to look at their time shares, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Swendson, and stating in the fine print that you're only eligible if you're a married couple (way to research your target market there!). Seriously, I think my junk mail to real mail ratio is even worse than my spam to real e-mail ratio, and it's harder to deal with because so much of it comes from my bank, my phone company, my insurance company, etc., so I can't just throw it out without looking at it.

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