Saturday, July 01, 2006

Archealogical Dig

This week I've been working on cleaning up my office a bit. I'm one of those who prefers to see everything so there ends up being a lot of stacks of paper around; not that you can really see it when it gets to that point but that's how it gets there. Now that I understand this, I actually am developing a better system that seems to be working but the old stacks are still there, hence the clean-up effort. What's fun (and sometimes annoying) is all the stuff you find - so that's where that's been all this time. See... so much for being able to see everything!

I started with just a few minutes at a time at the beginning, and now I can hardly stop. It's like the stuff demands to be organized, I swear - it's not like this is an activity I normally enjoy! Where I started was with my desk where all the papers that I felt I had to have right in front of me or I'd forget them had accumulated. Once I realized that I'd forgotten about pretty much everything from the third layer on down and couldn't even get to it if I did remember, it was a relatively simple task convince myself to scoop it all off into a pile on the floor. Of course, that meant one more pile on the floor but then with as many as there were, it was sort of tough to tell the difference.

So in ten minutes, I completely emptied the desk and in another ten minutes even took off every computer component so that the entire desk was bare. Then I walked away from it and left the house for the rest of the day. That's it.

The next day, I walked back into the office and took a fresh look. Did I want or feel the need to move the desk? Probably not, at least not yet. But I did re-arrange a few things and started immediately to like having things in their new places, like the fax machine next to me where I could actually see it and use it instead of on the lower shelf of the desk where I had to push the chair out of the way and kneel next to it if I ever wanted to send a fax.

I left it like that for a few days just trying to pay attention to how I work and how I wanted to use stuff. Then I started slowly, with a half hour of collecting stuff into paper sacks. The one labeled "Afraid I'll Lose Or Forget It" only narrowly edged out the one labeled "Sure I'll Need It For Something Someday" in terms of how quickly they filled. I will still have to figure out how to store the sorts of things I am so deathly afraid of losing or forgetting so they'll be readily accessible but I'm sure there's a lot of the stuff I've been so sure I'd need at some point that I can simply eliminate and that will make storing everything else so much better.

One of the things that's happened is that I actually have to work at limiting myself to 30 minutes a day an activity that normally you cannot beg or pay me to do. The willingness to devote myself to this is likely to fade a bit, so I am working on trying to find that delicate balance between taking advantage of the energy without totally burning myself out in the process. There is no 'done' in this kind of effort. We don't just stop collecting stuff - more gadgets and papers will continue to move through our lives. The trick is to be sure that at least as much is moving out as is coming in. To get there, you work simply on making progress a little bit at a time in such a way that is sustainable once you reach a satisfactory equilibrium. I know this is how it works and that helps a great deal.

And in the meantime, it's sort of like a treasure hunt. One of the things I unearthed yesterday is another of my old television contracts. I'd already found a more recent one, scanned it and have been working on chopping it up into pieces that I can share so we can all have a good laugh. Now we'll have even more to work with and compare. It'll be fun, I promise. Now that enough time has gone by, it's even fun for me - I haven't detected the slightest trace of bitterness yet, which is a very good sign.

After having gone for such a long time putting off doing this work, I have to say it feels very good to be getting rid of stuff I clearly no longer need. That's one of the benefits of waiting. My theory is there's always an upside to poor habits and/or there's something difficult about making a change, otherwise we'd have made the shift a long time ago.

Of course I'm also finding missed opportunities and that's the downside of not having kept up with stuff. And I realize that I can only be better going forward; it simply doesn't help to get annoyed about something that's so far past. No real worth for guilt.

Just clearing some space is worthy of celebration, no matter how it happens or how long it took to get to this point. I'm my own prodigal son.

The other sort of big thing I'm celebrating this week is the news that my ACC application was approved. It is nice to have had that effort rewarded and I'm proud of the accomplishment - now the clock is ticking on getting the next credential as this one has an expiration date. So I'll be collecting more hours (750 is the next milestone), and keeping better track of my Coaching Continuing Education Units. Wow, what a really great time to be better about how I file paperwork!

If you have favorite organizational tricks and tips, I'd be interested to hear about them so send them to me at or let me know if you'd like to hear more about the file system I'm currently using to keep active projects top of mind without having them clutter up the top of my desk.

How can you work with your tendencies and habits to get what you want instead of against them?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.