Thirty years ago, computers were a rarity. We used columnar pads for accounting. We counted with fingers and toes. We did fine. Computers are delightful, but they are not essential to our survival.
So, what’s the real issue? Perhaps many of us are wishing for a Y2K disaster. Subconsciously, we are creating a dramatic end to the computerized age. Stop the world, I want to get off. Crash the computers, I want the information to stop. Slow down. Stop! Let the sun rise on a new, simpler day.
As nice as computers are, they are adding to the overload of information in our lives. New ideas, services, offerings and breakthroughs are developing at an accelerating rate. On one hand, that is incredibly exciting — look at how creative and vibrant the world is! On the other hand, you can get buried by the avalanche.
The Internet is literally your connection to the world. When Bill Gates asks, “Where do you want to go today?” he can take you anywhere. Even where you didn’t intend to go. You could go on-line looking for a specific answer to a specific question. You might not find it on your first search, but you do find something else that sparks your interest. “Hmmm, I’ve always wondered about heating simulated habitats for zoo animals …” Easy to get sucked in.
Although Bill Gates pictured a paperless office, that hasn’t happened. We’re comfortable with the printed word, and so we tend to print everything out. The papers stand in columns on your desk.
Add to that the messages sent via mail, newspapers, magazines, radio and television. This onslaught of information buries you. Your mind is saturated and you can’t think anymore! Your desk becomes the dumping ground for all the printed information. And the phone rings all day long, at least three of those rings announcing telemarketing sales pitches. No wonder you want the world to stop spinning and the computers to crash in the year 2000.
I read a terrific article in the February issue of Inc. magazine by David Shenk, called “Why You Feel the Way You Do.” Mr. Shenk shares these statistics:
- Paper consumption per capita in the United States tripled from 1940 to 1980 (from 200 to 600 pounds per year) and tripled again from 1980 to 1990 (to 1,800 pounds).
- In 1971 the average American was bombarded by at least 560 daily advertising messages. Twenty years later that number had risen six-fold, to 3,000 messages per day.
- In the office, an average of 60 percent of each person’s time is now spent processing documents.
What to do? I don’t think the millennium will signal the end of the world as we know it. And I don’t think you really want to go back to adding columns of numbers by hand. So how do you deal with information overload? How do you stop the avalanche?
You need to streamline your life. Start with your desk.
Protect Your Sanity: The best thing you can do for mankind is protect your own sanity. Start with your desk. If you can create a sane, safe, calm, organized and productive workspace it will make you a better, saner person. And the world will be that much better off.
What percentage of the surface of your desk can you see? If it’s less than 10 percent, you’re in trouble. Start your simpler life today by clearing off your desk.
Don’t know where to start? Neither did I. So I hired a wonderful woman named Gail Gudell to give me a hand. Gail is a “professional organizer” with lots of bookkeeping experience. Honest to Pete, there is such a profession as professional organizers. Professional organizers can help you clear your desk. They can also rid your office of clutter, impose systems and checklists, establish order and save your life.
Gail taught me this system for making molehills out of mountains:
- Gather up a big garbage can, a stapler, paper clips, Post-its and a “Sharpie” marker. Have on hand manila file folders and the colored hanging types.
- Lock your office door, and take the phone off the hook.
- Take everything off your desk and out of the drawers and set it on the floor.
- Clean your desk inside and out. Make it shine.
- Go through every pile and throw out the obvious trash. Much of the stuff on your desk is out of date. Rip it and toss it. I bet 70 percent of the stuff on your desk ends up in the trash.
- If you can access the information easily again, with a phone call or an Internet search — throw it out.
- You can pile up trade magazines if you want to, but I bet you won’t go back and read them. Toss or recycle.
- From here after, when you throw something out, rip it in half. It is satisfying and fun to do. And later on, if you find something on the floor that’s ripped up, you know it’s trash.
- Put the stuff you want to keep into “like” piles on the floor. Think of the Sesame Street song, “Three of these things are like the other, three of these things are kind of the same …”
- Save any official correspondence from the government or IRS. Save evidence of payments, such as check copies and receipts.
- Save anything you must have because you love it and it’s personal. Photos, kids’ projects and nice letters.
- Use the Post-its to make notes about the information and toss out all the accompanying stuff.
- Now, only put back on to your desk stuff that you need to access this week.
- Only put back in your desk drawer one of each office supply item that you need.
- Only put “in process” projects in your desk drawers and use hanging files wherever possible.
- Take the stacks of “like” items and file them.
This looks simple and it is. But it ain’t easy. You might go through the entire pile uttering, “I might need this. I just want to look through that.” And you’ll end up with all the same stuff on your desk that you started with. Or once you start on the desk, you realize the whole filing system is a disaster.
It’s OK to admit you might need help sifting through the avalanche of information. Call in a professional organizer. Need help finding one of these super heroes? Call NAPO — the National Association of Professional Organizers. According to NAPO, a professional organizer can provide ideas, structure, solutions and systems which could increase productivity, reduce stress, and lead to more control over time, space and activities. Cool, huh? Call NAPO at 512/206-0151. Or call Gail at GailStorm Business Systems and Solutions at 417/753-4087.
The computers won’t crash at the turn of the century. You won’t either. Use the tools you have to make life simpler. Ask for help if you need it.
Now that your desk is clean, it’s your job to screen the information you receive and handle. Don’t let the junk mail even land on your desk. Toss it at the post office. Ask yourself, “Could I get this information later if I needed it?” If so, don’t keep it. Don’t randomly surf the Net. Keep your focus on what you need. Don’t print screen pages if you can avoid it. Use a short fax or voice mail to relay information. Ditch your pager.
It’s up to you to maintain your sanity. Back to basics. Keep it simple. Keep your desk clean.
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