Cleaning Up My Act

I’ve been cleaning up my act. Literally. For over a year now, I’ve been working to create more harmony in my work space by getting a firm handle on my business finances and creating an effective system for handling my projects, ideas and leads. Some of this falls to my editorial calendar and “herding (idea) squirrels,” and some of it is the tangible, concrete work of organizing.

Enter: filing.

I didn’t realize I had been filing the wrong way my whole life, because, frankly, I wasn’t filing at all. The cabinet nestled under my desk for this purpose hadn’t been opened in months (years?) and never with any regularity or intentionality.

Luckily, the person* I’ve trusted to help me wrangle my bank account also inspired me to create better work flow by resuscitating the filing cabinet. This required moving stagnant files (outdated taxes, appliance manuals, billing statements from long-closed accounts) to storage boxes (or the shredder). This, in turn, freed up space for active projects. Which explains how I was finally able to move a lot of files from my desk to the filing cabinet, where I can easily access, sort, add and subtract folders.

Surprisingly, this process yielded a piece of advice I wasn’t expecting. While attempting to wedge an over-stuffed folder into my newly reorganized system, my friend remarked:

“If you can no longer read the label on the tab of the folder, it’s time to re-evaluate.”

The simplicity of this nugget almost overshadows its importance. Read it again:

“If you can no longer read the label on the tab of the folder, it’s time to re-evaluate.”

This opened up a whole new way of thinking about my approach to, well, everything! I finally have a clear benchmark for the process of organizing. When a manila folder becomes so filled with papers, notes, ideas and clutter that I can’t tell whether it’s a Kitchen PLAY project or an Eat Write Retreat idea, it’s time to do one of two things:

  • clean out what’s unnecessary; OR
  • evolve into a bigger/different project.

Cleaning out what’s unnecessary is simply streamlining. Weed out old information, cold leads, unimportant minutiae. It’s also important to note that though letting go (pruning) sometimes feels scary and painful, it can lead to wonderful growth. Energy can nourish fruitful ideas (branches), rather than clutter causing those same ideas to wither on the vine. And besides, letting go means making room for more.

Evolving into a bigger/different project requires a special kind of organization. As a project grows, now I can see when it warrants several files to manage it (maybe its own hanging file folder!). The key then is to be clear in defining the project through multiple touch points (file folders) and managing growth wisely (see: cleaning out what’s unnecessary).

Is Your Basket Too Full?

It occurs to me that the “overstuffed file folder” rule can apply to much more in our lives than organizing our desks. In fact, I see it as a sort of life lesson (an aha! moment for me). If your mental files are so overstuffed that you can’t clearly see the motive behind it all, what good are those thoughts doing you? Or, try this on for size: if your homepage is so loaded with widgets, ads and sharing buttons that a visitor can’t immediately find your primary call to action, how well is your design working for you? (Even more importantly, do you still know what your primary call to action is, in either case?)

These are just two examples, big and small, of how this new way of looking at organization could help all of us. Think about the overstuffed file folders in your life. What can you do to get a clearer look at their labels?

*A quick shout out to my friend Jen, who has been instrumental in helping me organize. You can find her delightful website full of bright ideas for your sentimental treasures here.

Leave a Reply