Thursday, October 28, 2010

Feed the Brain, File the Papers

I have this cartoon by guy & rodd (February 26, 2005) on my office bulletin board.  It's an excellent pictorial representation of how I feel about the piles of paperwork that accumulate on my desk, my bookcases, my dining room table, etc. 

And lest you feel the need to lecture me on doing more bill paying online and receiving more newsletters via email, let me assure you that I am making these transitions.  Still, between the USPS and the kids' school backpacks, the papers continue to arrive at our doorstep. 

In recent weeks, I've been exploring different strategies I might apply to help me address this bad habit of letting the paperwork stack up.  I'm trying to make a behavioral change that'll last, not an easy task for a mere mortal.

Here are three of the strategies that didn't work: 

*Tell a leopard to change it's spots - I am just never going to be that person who puts paperwork away as soon as I'm done with it.  I envy the desks of those who are wired this way, but for me, I just don't see filing as being urgent or more important than getting on with the next thing.  Telling myself I'm not going to make piles is unrealistic.  I need a strategy that addresses the pile, not the fact that I make one.  

*Once in a blue moon - This was the method I had been using previously, and it's how I'd get myself to the state of futility.  Save it all up for one big effort.  Only, once the piles get too large, it's overwhelming.  And even once it's done, the cycle just repeats.  I needed a better system than that.   

*Make it a requirement - Who was I kidding with this one?  If I don't do it, do I tell on myself - to myself?  Funny how quickly that "mandatory" item on my weekly task list just kept getting pushed out further and further on the calendar.  Fastest way to get me to ignore something is to tell me that it's important when it isn't, and I doubt I'm alone on that one.

Then, by chance, I found myself on a webinar where I was prepared to take notes, only to learn that we could just download the handout.  As I continued to listen to the speaker, my eyes wandered over to a stack of papers.  Gingerly, I pulled a few sheets off the top and started filing.  I didn't finish all of it by the end of the call, but I had made a significant dent.    

A new strategy was born.  

*Feed the brain - The reason I don't like filing is because it's boring.  I have a very low threshold for boring.  But keep my brain entertained, and my hands will suddenly comply with such menial tasks as finding the right file folder for the latest copy of my auto insurance policy. 

Now, I can't count on handouts at every webinar, so I've added a few websites to my favorites list where I can listen to cool speakers like Seth Godin with "This is Broken" and Daniel Pink with "Drive: the surprising truth about what motives us".  I now have at least one hour a week on my calendar labeled "Feed the Brain, File the Papers".  In between appointments, I'm content to cultivate a small pile of non-urgent paperwork.  

My desk never looked so good.