Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jeanne in Wonderland

I just returned from a trip to California where I visited with my sister and went to Disneyland with my son and his family. It was a great vacation. While visiting Disneyland, I purchased a mug for myself, with an Alice in Wonderland painted on the inside. On the outside it quoted some words from a song in the movie: "I always give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it." I loved it because it is often true.

After bringing it home, it was time for me to get my office/creative space under control. I made myself some peppermint tea and got down to analyzing the problem.   I probably redo my office more than any other place because, in spite of all my best efforts, it always gets out of whack. First, I took the advice by Julie Morgenstern in "Organizing from the Inside Out" to get an objective handle on what was going on. Some things were working well, but others were not. I was listing "what's working", as suggested in the book and was pleased to see that I liked quite a lot of how my office functioned. My scrapbook/art area worked extremely well. My paints, art supplies, embellishments, rubber stamps, and even my photo storage area were great. I loved how all were easy to get to, easy to use and easy to put away. My office supplies were good…close to place of use, consolidated according to type, labeled nicely. My books and reference materials were divided into groups according to subject, size, close to my computer desk and easy to locate.

Next, as Julie suggests in her book, I listed the things that weren't working well. There were more than a few. 1)  I’ll start with my dear family members who often use my office (especially in my absence) and leave their things behind. Worst of all, when no one knew what to do with something, they'd put it in my office. You can guess what the result was.  No wonder I hated to do anything in there! Coming home from out of town, I would have to spend at least a day just cleaning up. My work table and desk was always crowded when I needed to work on a project or pay bills, and a lot of the stuff wasn’t even mine. 2) Secondly, I hate to admit it, but my computer chair was very uncomfortable. After a short while at my computer, my back would be hurting. I have to lean forward to deal with the arms on the chair which don’t allow me to get close enough to the keyboard and the carpet kept me from moving around easily---too thick. 3) And will it ruin my reputation when I say: I HATE filing my papers?  Because of this failing, I'd let my filing pile up (which didn't improve my attitude). 4) Worst of all, I was always losing track of projects. I'd forget what I was working on or where I was after returning from out of town. I had too many going at once. I’d get a fabulous idea, and not wanting to let it get away, I’d start it…or purchase items for it. Then guilt would hit me, and I’d work on finishing an older one, leaving the other to languish away, sometimes forgetting all about it until I’d reorder my closet or space.  I’d be so angry. Worse yet, I’d leave it until just before the occasion I was planning it for and have to work around the clock to finish it on time. Not the best method.

I had such a mental block about my office, I just couldn't see it the way I could see someone else's space. So I had to be my own best friend.  I cleared all the stuff out of my office in the areas that needed revamping, just like I'd do for a client, making sure to keep all items together that belonged together.  Next, I analyzed my work flow, and the functions of the room. It was painstaking. I do A LOT in that office. Finally it hit me what was wrong. I wasn't taking my own advice! (Thank you Alice!)

Here's the advice I'd give a client (or my best friend):  I'd advise them to create a vision for their room, and have a maximum of only 5 functions in one room. Any more is just too much. Just look around for another place for some of those functions, especially storage.  I decided to store my sewing supplies and general craft items not used in bill paying, scrapbooking, art, or my organizing business  and writing (my 5 purposes) in another room. Just because I occasionally sew in there, doesn't mean I need to keep everything in there. I just need to make it highly portable. Next, I tackled the five serious problem areas.  

How did I solve the problem of the family using my office and leaving their mess behind? I advised my family that when they used the office for homework or other projects, they needed to keep their things in something and REMOVE IT ALL when finished. Sometimes a milk crate or other container needs to be purchased so that they have a removable container to keep their things together. Discuss with them where they can keep these things when not in use, then just keep reminding them until they put them there. Don’t do it for them.  

Next, I worked on THE CASE OF THE UNCOMFORTABLE OFFICE CHAIR. I have been shopping for a new chair and decided that I need to rip out the carpet---maybe this is a radical idea, but I’ve decided that carpets don't belong in rooms where messy work is done and where you need to roll around from place to place. (Revolutionary I know). I will need some help with the carpet. I am still working on the chair, too. This will require some planning. In the meantime, I’m sitting on my exercise ball while at my computer desk. It’s more comfortable, less bulky and stores under my desk. And it has the added benefit of strengthening my core muscles. (Stunningly multi-purpose!). I have a simple padded folding chair at my work table.  

Now for the bane of my existence: keeping up with my filing. My filing system wasn’t terrible. It was the paid bills that I delayed filing, which told me I needed to simplify my system. Instead of a separate file for each type of bill, I now file my paid bills under the month they were paid. So I just re-labeled my files that I had such as: utilities, phone, cable, etc. by each month of the year instead.  I can pull a separate bill if I need it for something, otherwise, it doesn't matter. I have always had a TAXES file I start to fill at the first of the New Year, and I can put those in there at that time, and that’s that. It’s easier too, to throw away the old (more than a year) bills. Just pull the whole month’s contents when it is a year old, put your papers needed for taxes in your tax file and shred the rest. Simpler is always better. I have devised a paper flow system that otherwise works really well for me. You must work hard on some of these systems, until they really fit your life. I'll write more in detail on that one later.

And now for the Piece de Resistance: I have created a project tracking system. I have to admit I got this one partially from my husband. He was a computer programmer. At the end of every work day, he had a journal where he would write down what he had done that day, where the project was when he left off, and what he planned to do on the next day with it. That was where I started. While I can't go into this here in great detail yet, it involves storing projects in the same areas, labeling them well, and keeping journals or a card file to record details about the project where I left off, where I intend to go with it when I come back to it and a date when I want to get it done, scheduling time for it in my planner. You can even do a spreadsheet on your computer if you would prefer. I like things that are pretty and fun to keep up. But that’s not all…

What do I do for all of those ideas that are constantly rattling around in my brain? If you are a creative person, your brain is firing all of the time.  How do I discipline my creative side to wait until other projects are done, before spending time and money on a new one? I keep an IDEA FILE where I can write down creative ideas for projects, attach digital pictures of things I see that initiated the idea, etc. BUT ---and this is important, I have pledged NOT to start it, buy anything for it, or in any way, move it to current project status until I have finished at least half of the things I have already started. Once I have accomplished this, my project list will contain no more than THREE at one time. Gulp. I promise. This has already helped. I have finished three projects that were more than a year old. I'll write more on this in my next blog. This is a big problem for the creative person.  I think except for some minor tweaking, I have found a solution to something that has been bothering me for years.  I'll let you know how it's going.

So what did I learn? If I am facing a room that isn't working, I need to think about the advice I'd give my client or my best friend. Then FOLLOW IT. Happy Creative Organizing!