The Perpetual Pile of Papers

Yesterday was my birthday, and I had a lot of things planned. But as my grandmother used to say, man plans and god laughs.

I have been recovering from a virus and still wasn’t feeling 100%, so I decided to modify my plans and have a more low-key day. Instead of going to a museum, we took a walk through nearby Central Park. It was a lovely change of pace and really put a special stamp on the day.

Since I would be spending more of the day at home than I had expected, I was looking for a project that would be satisfying but wouldn’t feel like just another day of paper-pushing and processing e-mail. I found that project in my dreaded P3: the Perpetual Pile of Papers.

Do you have a Perpetual Pile of Papers? I bet you do. You may even have more than one.

I find that I can’t get any work done if there are papers on my desk. When papers gather, I deal with them so that I can get on with my work. But there are always those papers that I just don’t want to deal with right now. To get them out of my line of sight, I put them on top of my printer. This is convenient except when we want to scan something and we have to lift up the lid of the printer. It’s also just a little unsightly.

I go through the Perpetual Pile of Papers occasionally and pull out those that are ready to be filed away or discarded. But there is always that core that I just never deal with. As my colleague Barbara Hemphill said, “Clutter is postponed decisions.”

So in honor of my birthday, I decided that I was going to tackle the P3. A lot of the papers in the pile were notes and handouts from the past 3 organizing conferences I attended. (Ironic, isn’t it?) Making decisions about those papers required me to go to the file cabinet and pull out all of my conference notes and review them. Some of them got discarded and some stayed. I ultimately got everything labeled and put away, and then turned my attention to the rest of the pile until I could claim victory.

The only items left in the pile now are those that I will need over the next couple of weeks. It was a very nice birthday present to myself. As always, I vow to keep it clear from now on, but I know that’s not realistic. I can just remind myself that decisions don’t get any easier if you put them off. In many ways, they get harder, because it takes longer to remind yourself what those papers are and why you kept them.

Enjoying a birthday walk in Central Park