Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Getting It Together

Photo courtesy Flickr

I use business-card-sized slips of cheap copy paper to note individual shopping and clerical tasks. The shipping concierge/quick print place cuts them for me by the hundreds. It’s faster to sort and prioritize hard copies than to pick away at a digital assistant, and I can carry a dozen blanks in my wallet along with the minuscule ballpoint pen that the Co-op sells to weight-conscious hikers. Low tech listing means I can practice handwriting all day long.

Business writer Timothy Ferriss pointed out that clerical work uses a different part of the brain from other kinds of enterprise and that shifting gears takes a while. He recommends processing time-wasting tasks in batches. I used to try to do that, sort of, but the batch itself was indistinguishable from a paper midden. The slips helped, as did Ferriss’s comments.

I fished up a distant memory of library clerking and decided to restore an old paper handling system. My first task every morning was to sort hundreds of the book cards that were used before digital technology took over. That was the summer I really learned the alphabet as I built up speed inserting each card into its slot in a patented sorter. 

The local academic book store sells old-school book pockets, the things that held the book cards the library used to keep track of its collection. The pockets are relatively cheap, and I picked up a dozen, double-stick taped them to the front of the accordion folder I use to hold paper files, and I found myself sorting a minor blizzard of paper slips as fast as I used to handle a fistful of book cards.

Now I know what I’m up against. I also bought several kinds of planner-the academic year starts in August-and it looks as if an academic format will give me both the overview I need and the daily menu. Ferriss recommends noting only two critical tasks for each day. I misremembered that advice as just one critical task, and attending to only one task by eleven each morning broke the log jam of the undone.

I fear losing a planner when I’m out and about, and one slip of paper is enough to structure a day. I shop on the last Friday of the month, and that day I carry a handful of slips with accumulated lists. When things are slow I shop every second month, on foot, with a rolling duffel bag. Now and then I place a batch of on-line orders that I collect from the concierge. When I owned a car, I often spent thirty hours a week rolling in second gear from store to store.


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