One Bag Nation

Archive for May 2008

What Works? My habit of keeping a small notebook and pen in the car, in a little drawer that’s easy to reach from the driver’s seat.

All kinds of things come to mind when I’m driving: calls I need to make; something I need to pick up for dinner; upcoming birthdays; books or music I hear about on NPR; ideas for my “day job”; any number of household projects that need doing – and now of course, blog post ideas.

Without easy access to paper and pen, those to do’s might simply fall out of my head and be lost forever . . . but with my little notepad I’m all set. I just tear off the piece of paper I’ve written the note on and take it inside, where I add the item to my to do list. I make no promises about what happens after that. 😉

What Doesn’t Work? Sharing the pad or the pen with your children. Don’t give in – no matter how pitiful their cries – or you’ll never see that pad or pen again! and the next time you want to make a quick note, you’ll look like a contortionist, as you feel around the floor and between the seats in a desperate search . . . frustrating and dangerous!


Earlier today I indulged in a bit of a poor me post about losing sight of my goals and disliking my day job. I spend more time thinking about how much I dislike it and trying to avoid it than I do working. And the truth is, once I get started it’s not all that bad, especially compared to the anxiety and guilt I feel about not working.

So . . . I had a little Come to Jesus Meeting with myself this evening and decided that I need to JUST DO IT, as the famous saying goes. Our family depends on the income, the work itself could be a lot worse, and ultimately all this procrastinating is bad for my state of mind. Neil Fiore says in The Now Habit:

Trying to escape work by procrastinating will only increase your anxiety; only work will diminish [it] . . . the only thing that really helps is to start working.

Well said, so true – for me anyway. And ironically, what I do is write about food . . . I like to write, at least here, and I love to cook and eat and read and talk about food, so I can’t figure out why this is so painful for me.

My goal is to work (a measly) minimum of 10 hours each week. Starting tomorrow I’ll aim for 2 hours a day, even if it means I work for just five minutes at a stretch – no, just kidding! Instead I’ll follow Neil Fiore’s advice and work for 30 minutes at a stretch. And in between 30-minute work sessions I can spend 5 minutes dealing with the basement project.

My blog will be my witness, and you, dear readers are welcome to cheer me on.

Several weeks ago I wrote about the notion of attending to your “big rocks” first, in terms of time management and productivity. I had three big rocks, and ambitious goals.

As of this writing, I think I’m still carrying just one of those big rocks. Why?

The first rock was to work towards financial security for my family, by diligently working at my freelance job, which bores me to tears. I have to force myself to do my projects, and this is no way to live!

The second rock was to find a new job, by making one contact daily, which was probably unrealistic in the first place. But I’m so unfocused and unsure of what I want to do that I have no compass for making those contacts.

The third rock was to work on my personal serenity project – decluttering and organizing my house, doing a little bit each day. I think I can give myself a pat on the back for this one. I’ve organized my sock drawer, and my linen closet, greatly reduced the amount of stuff I had on my desk, and managed to clear the floor of piles of debris in my basement “holiday room”. I’ve taken two trips to the consignment store, put together a favorite recipe binder (two in my case – I cook a lot), and organized my spoons :-).

So how to tackle rocks one and two? A coach. I thought I had to approach a coaching relationship with goals, like: “I’m dying to be a (fill in the blank) and I don’t know how to get there”, but I’m learning that the idea is to start the process with questions. I know I want to make more money, but I’m really torn between my interest in social service work and my entrepreneurial dreams.

In the meantime, I do need to pick up that financial security rock and keep marching along . . .

It’s inevitable that when we begin to declutter, clear out cupboards and closets, and weed through piles of paper that we’ll find something that has been missing for a while. It’s like a treasure hunt.

I decided to keep track of the things that were lost – and then found – as a result of my organizing efforts.

My best find so far – and by far – was the birthday check sent to my daughter last September. Who knows what else lurks in deep, dark corners of clutter around here?

I’ll continue to post to my Lost & Found page as I find things, and I invite you to share your stories about long-lost possessions that have been returned to you as a result of your decluttering.

There’s a lot of chatter on the productivity blogs about “processing your inbox to zero” and how to manage email overload. I decided that poor David Allen would hyperventilate if he saw my inbox, so I took a crack at it, and began by ruthlessly deleting mail after mail. Most of those emails represented indecision and/or procrastination; I figured if I hadn’t done anything about them for several weeks, I never would – so away they went into cyberspace.

I was able to reduce the number of emails in my inbox from 200+ to under 10. As we speak, there are 10 read (but not processed) emails awaiting my attention. Some examples of what I’m now avoiding:

  • a baby shower invitation
  • an email from a cousin which includes his siblings’ email addresses – which I need
  • an invitation to a political fundraiser
  • a request from Budget rental cars inviting me to create a profile – for fabulous discounts, of course!

One rule I try to live by when dealing with email is to never sit down at the computer without my calendar. So many emails require checking on dates and times and it’s so much easier to just look, decide and delete right on the spot. Of course this doesn’t help with the guilt of wanting to say no to something – I deal with that by procrastinating!

I get quite a few promotional emails from online retailers; I don’t unsubscribe because I’m waiting for the free shipping promotions – I wear petites which are not usually available in “bricks and mortar” stores, so I order online a lot and I try not to pay shipping if I can avoid it. I’m pretty good about deleting those right away if they aren’t offering free shipping.

I’m about to unsubscribe from Daily Candy. While I have to admire the founder for her ingenuity (a daily email focusing on just one topic or product), they’re all about consuming, and they have this weirdly smug tone-of-voice that I find annoying. And let’s be serious, I’ll never buy a $400 purse . . . so DC is going away today.

I do make use of folders to store emails; I have way too many I’m sure, but the ones I’m finding useful now are my Summer 08 folder (vacation and camp info); my Hours folder where I keep the emails I send to my employer (if I ever work instead of blog); and my Daisy Scout folder (I’m one of the co-leaders).

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your email inbox, take a quick look (remember you can spend just five minutes on this to start) and maybe set a goal of deleting anything that’s older than three months, or 10% of the entire contents – something arbitrary but quantifiable so you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment.

For me the payoff is as high as clearing my desk or decluttering the linen closet – give it a try!

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I had to leave town for a few days due to my brother’s illness. Yesterday was Day 15 of my basement clean-up project, but sorry to say, I haven’t made any progress since my trip.

I was busy unpacking, doing laundry and getting over my jetlag – all that stuff you need to do when you get home from a trip.

What’s my excuse today? I decided to tackle another project, which is to trade spaces with Queen Pack Rat (aka my daughter), giving her the spare room for all her many art and “invention” projects, and I’m moving to her little “studio” in the kitchen nook. Now I won’t have to look at messes like this every time I’m working in the kitchen!

Stay tuned . . . I’ll post photos of my new workspace soon – and I’ll get back to the basement tomorrow for sure.

I’ve implemented ideas from two organizing and productivity gurus to help me manage household bill-paying and other household paperwork. Setting up and consistently using an inbox, and the routine of my weekly desk day have made a big difference in my quest to be more organized.

At the suggestion of David Allen, I have one large inbox (you can see a photo of my beautiful, cheery inbox here), where I toss all incoming mail (after purging recycling, etc.) and any other paperwork that needs to be handled (like school and scouting announcements). Sometimes I put things like birthday presents that need to be wrapped in there, or an item I need to return to someone (I put a note on my to do list for the day I plan to return it). Right now the strap that tore off my laptop bag is in there, because I need to be in touch with the manufacturer.

At the suggestion of flylady, I chose one day a week to be my “desk day”, when I process what’s in the basket. I get up extra early, make a cup of coffee and spend a quiet hour or more, working through whatever I find in there.

Why does this work? Two reasons: First, I have a designated place for all incoming “stuff” which prevents it from cluttering up my desk or any other part of the house. Second, my routine of processing everything once a week – on the same day – gives me peace of mind; I don’t have to think about any of it until desk day comes around.

I still struggle with procrastinating on the tasks I don’t want to do (like filing, of course!) but I’ve come a long way since the days when my entire (large) desk was piled high with catalogs, junk mail, bills, magazines – you name it – and I didn’t know where to begin.

And just remember – you can start small. I first established the habit of sorting the mail and immediately tossing catalogs and other junk. Just that small change reduced the piles considerably – give it a try!

Oh – and by the way – what doesn’t work? Getting up super-early to process my inbox, only to find myself blogging instead!!