Spring Cleaning, Book Mama Office Style…
It’s SPRING! I keep thinking I “should” do a 4-day juice cleanse… that’s what I usually do at the start of each spring. But I’m not in the mood. If chugging glasses of green stuff doesn’t make you feel giddy right now either, I’ve got another idea:
What about a piles cleanse? As in, those piles of paper you’ve been shuffling around your office for, let’s be honest, too long now. You know what I’m talking about, right? The secret (or not-so-secret) piles stacked up on your desk, in the kitchen, or, God forbid, next to your bed.
I’ve had a L O N G relationship with piles. By nature I’m an organization nut who would answer a Proust question—”Office Depot or Disneyland?” with a definite DEPOT.
My closet is color-coded, and so are my files. I use the best software available—Evernote is my external brain and I have thousands of notes and notebooks stored there, tagged to find anything in an instant—and my team and I use Asana for our project management system (thanks, Team D!), where we juggle the 1,001 details of managing five businesses: The Boyfriend Log, Carmel Writing Retreats, The Beautiful Writers Group, YBBBP, and BookMama.
Did I mention that I have hundreds of Voice Memos saved and labeled? Good God. Every year at New Year’s, I get that anxiety to GET THE PILE FILED. CHECKED OFF. DISCARDED. Gotta start anew! Fresh, fresh, fresh.
And yet, still… the piles. I can’t seem to get rid of the last one. The one with Post-It notes housing book and blog posts ideas, snippets of a conversation to tell a friend, a song and book to order from Amazon. There’s that insane pasta sauce recipe I MUST make for company, with that vegan-sugar-free-chocolate fudge recipe that brought a recent wedding shower to its knees. And where to put the napkin from a romantic dinner with my guy in Hawaii, and the thank you note from an agent raving about our mutual client who just hit the lists?…
Some days I make serious headway on my pile, but similar papers always rush in to replace what’s left. It doesn’t matter how fast I rip through its girth, its drawing power intensifies, mocking me as it swells like something out of a horror film.
A hippy-dippy New-Age healer teacher of mine back in the 80s—a guy named Dennis Adams—used to say: “Nature abhors a vacuum. When you clear your kitchen counter, a new bunch of stuff will fill its place quickly.” I took that to mean he was saying I’d never fully get rid of my piles, and yet still, I dream…
Want to hear something really scary? I once caught myself daydreaming that our house would burn down so that the blasted pile would be gone forever. It was just a fleeting thought, but it made me wonder if piles create a sort of mental instability. I’m pretty sure they do.
Tony Robbins teaches that we’ll never get “it” all done. Being fully caught up is a fantasy, he says. “Focus on the big stuff first,” he says. “Then the little stuff takes care of itself.” I find myself stuck somewhere between reality and fantasy on this—tackling big things semi-regularly, but still addicted far more to the bright shiny objects of getting as many small “to-do’s” crossed off as possible, stuff like… “water the plants,” “call the groomer,” and “buy a new label maker.”
Last December, I committed to being DONE already before 2015 rolled in. I carried my last pile in a BIG box from my house to my car and drove it 400 miles to Carmel-by-the-Sea where I was teaching a writing retreat. Surely I’ll have time to go through my PILE before the gang shows up; I can’t come home to this pile ever again!
Feeling like a delinquent hiding illegal substances, I hid my box in the way back of my trunk, and then lugged it into The Vagabond Inn when I arrived in this seaside town the night before, under the cover of darkness.
Too tired to wrestle with the pile, I got a good night’s sleep and handled about 1/100th of it in the morning. I’d planned on spending another four hours on the piles–surely that would be enough–after I took my little Merry dog out for a quick walk to the beach.
Only thing was, when we got to the water’s edge, a pod of 25 dolphins were surfing the waves with Humpback Whales not far off behind them. Naturally, I was mesmerized, as was the crowd, larger than any I’d seen on this beach in all of my decades walking this shore since childhood.
The piles could wait a bit longer. After all, I’d be here for five days and don’t work past 10 pm during retreats, so I could go through everything little by little each night.
Alas, some part of that pile made the trip home, but I digress.
Sometimes I wonder if I just really love my piles. There are, for certain, treasures to be found there. And, dopamine and serotonin hits for discovering them (or rather, re-discovering them) and tending to them. Recording them, filing them, checking them off as I toss another paper into the recycle bin. All that gives me a decidedly first-world high. Immediate gratification of an irritatingly delayed kind.
Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin (our Beautiful Writers Group celebrity guest for July
) writes in her new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Day Lives,
that what we do every day
matters more than what we do once in while
. Maybe that’s it—so easy to see I missed it entirely: rather than tackling my pile inconsistently, I need to tackle it EVERY single day! Or better yet—create good habits that keep the pile from forming in the first place. Doy.
SHARING MY SECRET BROUGHT SOME RELIEF
“Um, I’ve got this irritating habit,” I mumbled at Carmel when I’d gone through a portion of the box and made my way downstairs with an overflowing garbage can to see the six delightful souls who’d joined me there stuffing their faces with our chef’s just-out-of-the-oven cookies. “Do any of you have piles of paper you just can’t seem to get rid of?” They laughed. Nearly all did. Except Orna and Matthew—a married couple working on a relationship book. They’d coincidentally just filed the last of their pile right before coming to the retreat.
The little brats. I wanted to pull a Lucile Ball and tweak their ears and run back upstairs.
I tried to hate them for being so organized. But it was impossible. If you know Orna and Matthew, you know they’re too smiley and grateful and lovable to take your anger out on.
As if knowing this, Orna took action. She’d been watching me try to perform a burning ritual to rid me of this craziness, only to feel my frustration at how long it actually takes to feed a fire scraps of paper by hand. Orna stole my trash can, dumped it in the recycling bin before I could register what was happening, and took this triumphant photo.
Ahhh… One less basket to lug back home.
Here’s to better habits. And those who help us shoulder the weight of the pesky ones that persist.
Hoping you can find humor in your madness today.
P.S. If you’ve got PILES of book ideas, we’ve still got 1, maybe 2 spots open for our April 27th retreat, which is unusual–maybe the spot’s been waiting for you?!:) Fill out this registration form and we’ll schedule a Skype or phone call to see if it’s the right fit for you. (By the way, I’m REALLY good with bringing order to other people’s piles of book notes, and promise to keep yours a safe distance from the fire!)
P.S.S. Have you got piles? How do you handle them? Or maybe you just want to vent:) Leave a comment and tell us about it! xo