Tag Archives: Organization

Here You Go

Problem solving has been an important part of my job description for as long as I can remember.  I like to put on the detective hat and sift through things to find the parts that are important, put them together in the right configuration and arrive at a solution.  Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward to figure out and sometimes plenty about the situation is a bit ambiguous.


There is one thing about problem solving that got old a long time ago, but is part and parcel of the problem solver’s lot in my experience.  It is the person who makes it a habit to hand over partial information, or fragments here and there in multiple email or phone messages.  They want you to solve it, but they can’t be bothered to try to put anything together in any sort of cohesive single place.


public domain image

public domain image

I’ll take the person who isn’t sure what they want or need kind of problem over the person who dumps a mess every time.  Most times.  Every once in a while I use the big mess as an excuse to be left alone to puzzle it all into something coherent.  But mostly I see it as a different facet of rude.  That person’s time is more important than mine.  (Though I concede that there may be other ways of looking at it…)


Sigh.  Focus on the boost that I hope to get upon resolution and not on the drudgery of slogging through the junk. This is why there are stories of the really good stuff one can find hidden in junk.  Think of ways to prevent the junk dump from repeat offenders.  Get caught up in the chase for the best solution.


Don’t be a here you go, dump and run person.  Please.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved


Weekend Hours

Why, oh why do the hours of our weekends seem to dissolve so quickly into the past, depositing us once again on the cusp of Monday with so little to show for the weekend just ending?  There are the regular tasks – provisioning the household takes constant effort it seems – and the periodic tasks with a bit of time allowed for leisure of some sort.


If I were to list all of the things that I have done over the two days I probably would be pleased, I had productive time; why do I feel like it just wasn’t enough?  I have the constant nagging feeling that I am not making the best use of my weekend hours.  Do you?  Have that feeling, or are you better than I at making the best use of these two days?

Public clocks to keep us on track.  (photo credit: Big Ben from Wikimedia Commons)

Public clocks to keep us on track. (photo credit: Big Ben from Wikimedia Commons)


It wasn’t that long ago that the work week norm was considered to be 6 days with one day set aside for rest.  How did they get to everything?  How did they ever get the mental down time to recharge?  And these days there are plenty of people who juggle 2 or more part time jobs to make ends meet – I imagine their time off is measured in hours and not days.  With sleep claiming a good chunk.


Childhood weekends were filled with large boring chunks of time when the default activity became TV, with only a handful of channels to choose from to find something of interest.  (If you weren’t one for sports, it was slim pickings.)  I lived in suburbia which meant if I hadn’t planned my reading properly, I couldn’t get myself to the library for a refill on new books.  Chores were handed out and easily completed unless we balked for some childish reason or another.  A trip to the store with mom could be an interesting diversion or torture.  One store had baskets set up in a way that one of us could ride underneath and the world became curious from that perspective – but it wasn’t always my turn to ride.


Now weekends seem to often be an endless round of moving undone to-do items from an old scribbled on list to a fresh list, with the hope that the item won’t have to be moved onto future lists too.  Sometimes, but not often enough, I am good at planning in a little fun experience or two.  This puts a squeeze on my necessary tasks, but is usually worth it from a mental energy perspective.


Well, it’s Monday again with one weekend behind and another looming in the near distance.  Time to think work week thoughts.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

An Acceptable Level of Chaos

The known and the unknown.  Order and its opposite – disorder, mess, chaos.  The traditional dramatic struggle is between good and evil, but every day life’s struggle is in the intersection between order and control or varying levels of chaos.  Even people who aren’t drawn to structure, who are comfortable in ambiguity, need some touch points of order – normalcy.


Whether we actively and consciously understand our own needs for order, or we lash out in unease caused by too much chaos too close, every one of us has an acceptable level of chaos.  When we can still mostly function, beyond which we get bogged down.

The Course of Empire Thomas Cole, 1836 - public domain image

The Course of Empire Thomas Cole, 1836 – public domain image


Somehow I learned fairly early on that I could create some of the structure that I need to feel comfortable in my environment.  I am thankful for this since it has greatly helped me to navigate my life.  I know immediately that when anxiety starts to build that I should take a breather, mentally take stock in all that is going on around me and identify a few simple things that I can straighten out.  I know that to press on will be foolish – and yet sometimes I press on.


Even knowing the level of order that I prefer, having such an interest in problem solving as I do, I am finding that the level of complexity in our modern life – the amount of oversight and active monitoring that is necessary on my part to get an acceptable level of service from the companies and people that I interact with – is exhausting.  I can’t begin to imagine how people who have a much stronger need for order, or people who find standing up for themselves a challenge, manage these interactions.


I didn’t mean to sound stilted in this post, but I am trying to wrap my head around a solution to this encroaching chaos.  It feels too close lately, in too many areas of my life.  Naming it is the first step to a solution.  Finding joy, or having a laugh will reduce the anxiety while I continue to sort through.  Finding some easy wins will give me a little boost of energy to press on.


How are you managing your chaos?


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Show Me the Way to Catch Up

Fourteen or so years ago I remember talking to someone and telling her that I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that I was forgetting something.  She helped me to talk through general things with my house, job, and kids so that we figured that there wasn’t anything glaring.  We were operating on the assumption that my feeling must be based on something concrete – an actually overdue or nearly due to-do.


This conversation sticks in my mind because it marks the start of my current stage when I have learned to live with this feeling as a constant companion.  Because I am forgetting things, those little things like all the personal, car, house maintenance that we should do to keep things tip top and running smoothly.  And all the little things at work that would make other things less reactive.


We imagine that past generations had it a bit easier – indeed they didn’t have things like 401k accounts to rebalance, or HSA accounts for that matter.  The types of insurance constituted a shorter list, and so lessened the bewildering amount of paperwork, rules and the like to track and decide upon.  Working on the car didn’t require specialized skills or tools – diagnostics was what the doctor did when he depressed your tongue.


Public domain image, Bay Bridge

Public domain image, Bay Bridge

No matter, I would just like to break this feeling of falling behind.  Knowing that I am not alone in this is some comfort, but not relief.  And hiring an assistant would be amazing, but not in my budget.  Friends and I often compare areas where we are ahead or behind each other – a little competition to spice up the endless race not to fall further behind.


(The title is hummed to the tune of “Show me the way to go home”… I’m tired and I want to go to bed…)


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

List Making, Priorities & Holiday Shopping

Simple.  Easy.  There are things waiting to be done so you get out your favorite list making method and write them down.  Then you prioritize them, bang through them and the day is done with much accomplished.  Sure.  Why are there whole books written about getting stuff done then?  And articles in nearly every December issue of magazines about making the holidays light, bright and cheery without getting buried in your to-dos?

making lists

I’ve been thinking about planning on the personal side of that work-life balance since I wrote my last post.  And because it is the holiday season and Black Friday highlights are showing the usual frenzies of shoppers clicking through their lists and getting in each other’s way.  I’ve participated all of once in the Black Friday melee and found it to be a thoroughly frustrating not to be repeated experience.  Whatever prompts these people to see the excess of shopping hassles as a priority is beyond me.


I understand the thrill of the chase, and I definitely get the joy of a deal.  Maybe it defies my sensibilities because we don’t tend to buy each other electronics in my family.  When I do buy them, it is after research on the best product and based more on reliability and features than price.  And most of these door busters seem to be electronics.  Too, I don’t like to get up early on a day off, nor am I fond of being cold.  Shopping is meant to be leisurely when I’m buying gifts.  A return to my teen days of browsing and considering, unlike errand running which is map it, get it, and move on.  I want to think about the person that I’m shopping for, not look over my shoulder for a potential kamikaze attack.


Back when I had more time, I would get out my baking implements in mid-November and pull out my cookie recipes.  I would add to a growing pile of cookies and quick breads in my freezer each week until mid-December when they would all come out and I would box them up as presents for extended family. (My boys fearful that I wouldn’t save enough for them to munch.)  Hundreds of cookies, about a dozen different kinds.  My back and knees are happy that is not my routine anymore, but the rest of me misses it – and so do many family members.  I hope to be able to return to days when cookie baking can get back on my priority list for the holidays.  I’ll get one of those cushioned mats for my back, knees and feet.


If I had to explain how I make my holiday priorities, it would be to pick out the things that mean holiday to me – ways to be closer to friends and family, to feel joy.  I love Christmas cards, festive packages, all of the carols.  Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward all.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Clutter in my Mind

Do you have those days when you have meeting after meeting – and the ‘action items’ that always seem to come after – and then you get back to your desk to find you have more voicemails than time to get back to the people plus a line of team members who have been lurking in hopes to see you between meetings to get an answer or follow up on previous action items?  And then you go home and don’t have time to make dinner plus eat it before there are other activities to do/attend/lead/prepare for?  And then fall into bed and your brain laughs at you – sleep, I’d love to, but you haven’t given me a moment to myself today so I have a lot to mull over here and this is the first moment that you’ve given me so we are definitely not sleeping yet.

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Interior of a storeroom

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Interior of a storeroom


Whew, hope you followed me through that long, run-on paragraph.  Most of us would rather be busy than idle, particularly at work.  Idle time at home is often bliss, but at work it is frustrating.  Crazy busy is a completely different level – the one that leads to stress diseases and burn out if it is sustained.  I’ve been bouncing up into the level between good busy and crazy busy.  (Glad I haven’t been crazy busy since an SAP implementation project a few years ago now.)


I don’t have a name for this level but I find that it leaves a lot of clutter in my mind – the half formed idea to resolve an open question from a meeting two days ago that died because I didn’t get back to it in time, indeed I piled other half formed ideas on top of it from other meetings.  Now the desiccated idea is just taking up space in my mind.  Alongside a hyperactive to-do list that changes every other minute.  And barely formed thoughts on future tasks that are strewn about like Legos waiting for an unsuspecting barefoot walk through the room.  (For those of you who have never lived with a Legomaniac, this is like stubbing your toe only it is the bottom of your foot.)


In Toastmasters contests, there is a minute of silence while the judges think about the just completed speech and write their notes before the next speech is introduced.  Imagine how nice it would be in the office to have fifteen minutes to a half hour to at least start to flesh out thoughts and ideas that come out of meetings before your load in something completely new with the next meeting?  It would be refreshing, yes?


I finally get the point of study hall in high school – I thought it was supposed to be social time (and I never was lucky enough to have any of my friends in the same study hall hour), sometimes doing a bit of work but mostly just pulling out a book and reading.  Now I get that it was time for students to make a bit of sense, organized our thoughts around what we had learned that day.  Make it our own, connect the dots.  Prevent this clutter in our minds.


Wouldn’t it be nice if we got study hall time at work in between meetings?  As for home, we are each on our own to manage that clutter in our minds.  Share if you have a good method.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

What am I Supposed to Do with All this Information?

We are bombarded with information wherever we go, look away for just a moment and another ton or so has been added to the pile.  All of it vying for our attention.  Whew, how to figure out what is important, what is useful, what is filler?

Coping methods abound, but should they really be broadly applied?  And most of them seem to deal with the mechanics of organization as opposed to the how-to of information processing.  Weighting, sifting, categorizing, pattern recognition – information triage.


I remember along about when my boys hit middle school realizing that they didn’t seem to know how to study properly – what to put into notes, how to organize those notes, how to weight importance of the lessons provided.  I looked around for additional assistance, a tutor or program, but all were focused on improvement in the direct skills – math, reading, etc. – that my boys were quite capable of learning on their own.  I could not find anything that would help with the soft skills of study habits or information organization.  The people that I contacted seemed to be confused about my request.

At work, I have encountered people who need assistance deciding how to prioritize the pile of work in front of them.  Sometimes this is because there is simply too much of it, but sometimes it is the same issue as for my boys – how to process information effectively was not part of any curriculum they had encountered.  There seems to be an assumption that people will naturally know what to do with the information provided and therefore the focus of teaching has been on providing the information.

I wish that I could say I remember how I was taught to process information – because I am certain that I had lessons on this skill along the way.  Perhaps it was in such small increments, here and there, that I can’t pinpoint any moments.  My ‘aha’ moment has been that this is something that I can share with others, not how I acquired the knowledge.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t have places in my house where piles of information await my attention.  (Good thing my dining room table has a sturdy pedestal.)  And I wish that it meant I had a magic method of whisking away extraneous information without having to take time to look at it!  Plus there is always the brand new information that takes longer to sort because I don’t know the identifying factors yet.

How have you decided to process all the information that comes your way?

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Formal Writing Habits

A friend called the other day to offer a suggestion for a blog post.  (I love it when they do.)  And we ended up in a bit of a debate.  Well, half of one anyway since we agreed that there is still a place for formal writing styles.  But disagreed whether the upcoming generations will consider this to be a truth.  Millennials now in the workplace, and those upcoming generations still in school. 


Cursive writing seems to be a dying art, saved now for posh invitations.  I’m ok with that, a lot of people say that they can’t read my writing anyway.  So too will it be for formal letter templates?  The salutation, indentation of a new paragraph – or my preferred extra carriage space – full sentences, grammar and punctuation?  (Do these younger people who’ve only known typing on a computer even know what I mean by carriage space?)

public domain image

public domain image


I am betting on the continuation of business letter formatting.  It is not a just because sort of thing, there is logic behind these rules.  Formal address is respectful and the format helps the eyes and the mind absorb the message where big blocks of unpunctuated text make the eyes and brain balk.


Everything old is new again – this has been rediscovered over and over as humans have evolved on this planet.  Formal styling in writing will see a resurgence.  The content of a message must be packaged carefully, in order to retain its meaning. 


Your turn – what say you?  Don’t let your younger self that struggled with all the little rules speak here; think about reading comprehension, eye strain, possibility of misunderstanding.  (Hey, if we could maintain this strict formatting using a typewriter doing it on computers is a breeze…  My friend isn’t here to push her side of the debate…)


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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