Thursday, April 26, 2012

Extending the Olive Branch to Social Media

I've been a bit put out with social media, as you may have noticed.  I was engulfed by the tech chatter in my life, and social media was an easy scapegoat.

I suspected many of us feel buried under an avalanche of technology, and there is proof.  Last year some very smart folks at Cambridge University reported that 1 in 3 people (or at least British people) feel overwhelmed by communications technology (click here).  Researchers did not specify whether respondents were overwhelmed by communications about Pippa Middleton.

Anyway, this statistic makes me feel much better.  I'm not the only one going nutty with all this digital noise.  I'm not the only one who isn't up-to-the-minute in the cyber news cycle (see above for reference to year-old scientific study).  I'm not an anomaly, I'm in good company.

So back to social media:  In the early days of this blog, I famously (ha!) deleted my Twitter account.  I wasn't even using it, but its mere existence was stressing me out.  Every time I saw a hashtag, I felt I should be tweeting something, anything, lest I become irrelevant.  But since many big companies don't know what to do with social media (so says the "Harvard Business Review" in this article -- recently, I should add), I shouldn't take it out on Twitter.  We're all new to this.  And it ain't the little blue bird's fault.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Long Live the Legal Pad

Current wisdom says that to manage information overload, we should all go paperless.  I’ve made many digital conversions that have been life changing.  I’m devoted to my online calendar (love those alerts!), I never misplace the shopping lists on my phone, and I’ve happily ditched unfoldable paper maps.  But I’ll never abandon the legal pad.

Yes, I can type notes on my computer or phone, but there’s something about a blank legal pad that opens up a world of possibilities.  Ideas flow, plans are hatched, projects are born.  Maybe it's that I grew up writing by hand, not typing from toddlerhood, that my mind connects more closely with a pen than a keyboard.  

Now, full disclosure: This post is being typed, not handwritten.  Why?  Because it’s flowing easily, and I can pretty much download it from my head to my laptop.  Where the legal pad comes in is with stuff that’s confounding, bewildering, or otherwise gobsmacking.  I.e, when I’m stuck.  It’s then that I need those yellow lined pages in my hand, coaxing me to put down something, pray, anything.  A blank computer screen can paralyze me with its incessantly blinking cursor.  The legal pad gently prods me to get started.

The ideas that are keepers eventually get typed into a computer file.  Most of my handwritten notes end up in the recycling bin.  But it's the act of writing them down that resets my intentions and gets me going on that new, hopeful path. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Subscribing to Overload

When I launched my consulting business, I earnestly subscribed to two business magazines.  Now when they arrive each month, I dutifully…hurl them on a pile of business magazines.

Most days I love getting magazines – give me the latest Real Simple and I’m in lifestyle nirvana.  But these business mags make me clench up. 

Each cover promises the key to my success.  Some sample headlines:

“How to Network Your Way to Fame & Fortune”
“How to Be an Extraordinary Leader”
“How to Ace Social Media”
“How to Get Good at Making Money”

See a pattern?  Each of these articles should teach me something useful, right?  One would think.  Instead, I’ll learn about all the things I’m doing wrong or should add to my to-do list.  Frankly, I can’t take the pressure.

Genetically, I’m a read-everything-I-can-get-my-hands-on-so-that-I-can-prepare-for-every-scenario kind of girl.  But these articles get me so worked up that I can’t move forward. 

So what to do with this growing pile of publications?  How ‘bout I give each one ten minutes (I’ll set a timer) and forbid myself to tear out articles, take notes, or otherwise act upon what I’ve read.  Instead, I’ll trust that this brain of mine will absorb the good stuff.  And I might even do something with it someday.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Conservation of Precious Objects

When I graduated college, a friend of mine was continuing on to a masters program called The Conservation of Precious Objects.  She wanted to become one of those museum people who keeps fine art from crumbling into oblivion.  Bless her.

We don’t have any fine art around our house, but you’d never know it from my family photo neurosis.  Since my memory is so bad, our digital and printed pictures are like holy relics.  How will I know what my kids looked like as babies if I don’t have photographic evidence?  I live in fear that one (or all) of the following will obliterate our photos: a house fire, a computer crash, a back-up hard drive crash, iCloud evaporation, my failure to use 100% acid free storage boxes.  I could go on.

Back in the olden days, people were lucky to have one photo of their family.  Today, we have thousands, and the chances of them all disappearing are slim.  Still, I’ve kept our photos squirreled away in a guestroom closet, afraid that by handling them I’d somehow mess them up.  That closet mocked me for years until I finally couldn’t take it anymore.  I hauled out all the boxes and scrapbooks, and I started to sort.  Surprisingly, the photos did not spontaneously combust.  And in an act of uncharacteristic bravery, I decided our photos were meant to be looked at, not hidden away in the name of conservation.  So.  I am slowly bringing out some of the best pictures for display.  And I plan to throw a bunch into scrapbooks, even if I'm incapable of doing anything with stickers and pretty paper.

I know I sound like a nutcase.  Most people don’t get this worked up over snapshots.  But it’s one of my little quirks, and until they develop a Twelve Step program for this one, I’m on my own.  In the meantime, I'm going to demote our photos to semi-precious objects.  The people they depict are the true treasures.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Procrastination: On Second Thought

I was pretty unequivocal in my solution to procrastination:  from now on I’ll give myself three days, then muscle through whatever I’m putting off (see 12/13/11).  Clearly this would keep thing from piling up and reduce my information overload.  However.  The day after that post, something weird happened that made me rethink this hard and fast approach.

My husband and I had been meaning to get him Long Term Disability Insurance, and his employer didn’t offer it.  Without it, we were jeopardizing our family’s financial stability, should something awful happen and he couldn’t work.  But LTD insurance falls into the category of “Grown Up Stuff We’d Rather Not Think About,” so for years we did nothing.  Our financial planner must have been drinking herself to sleep with all our foot dragging. 

Over the summer we finally began conversations with an insurance guy who could get us private LTD insurance.  At a steep price.  We (I) got the ball rolling…then dropped it.  I didn’t follow through and it became one more monkey on my back.  Fast forward to December 14th:  My husband comes home with his new benefits package, and lo and behold, his company will start offering group (much cheaper) LTD insurance come January 1st.  Happy new year!

Enough with the inner workings of my financial life.  The point is that procrastination seems to serve a purpose sometimes.  When we think we're putting things off, the universe is actually looking out for us.  Apparently we have to learn how to distinguish between good procrastination and bad procrastination.  Right now, I don’t know how to tell the two apart.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Field Experiment #2: Procrastination Comes to Visit

The three of you reading this may have noticed there were no posts in November.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  Seems I unwittingly conducted another Field Experiment, this time in procrastination.  I had a bit of writer’s block, and the longer I went without posting, the bigger deal it became.

We all know how this works:  The field trip permission slip goes unsigned until you’re running towards school while the buses are loading.  You’re at FedEx on December 22nd, spending more on shipping than the gift.  The electric bill goes unpaid until it costs extra to pay over the phone.  It would be nice if we didn’t bring these crises on ourselves, but alas, such is human nature.

Around the world, people with advanced degrees are researching the science of procrastination (I wonder if they ever put off writing their reports?), so getting to the root of this evil is beyond me.  However, I can tell you what finally got me to write this post:  I treated procrastination like a houseguest.  I welcomed procrastination warmly, we had some laughs, then on Day Three I showed procrastination the door.

I’m going to keep using this technique whenever I just can’t get something done.  I’ll mark procrastination’s three-day visit on my calendar, and on the last day I’ll forge ahead with the dreaded task.

Who knows, maybe procrastination will leave early next time?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chronological Disorder

I must confess I've done nothing about the paper piles in my office (see my 9/27/11 post).  I did hang a curtain to hide my open shelving, but that’s probably cheating.

However, I think I'm getting to the root of my problem.  I have this anal retentive quirk that stops me from getting the papers on the floor into the filing cabinet:  I need to file things in chronological order.  I had to laugh as I typed those words, because it's a ridiculous hang up.  Do my appliance manuals really need to be filed by date of purchase?  No, no, a thousand times, no.  The fact that I have a file for the appliance manuals should be a moral victory.

Back in the go-go ‘80s, I interned for Chiat/Day Advertising, the place to be for aspiring mad (wo)men.  At the time, the company motto was “Good enough is not enough.”  The mantra was everywhere – on t-shirts, coffee mugs, legal pads.  To a lowly 20-year-old, the message was clear:  if you can’t put forth your absolute best effort, don’t bother. 

So here I am, twenty-something years later, surrounded by enough paper to choke an industrial shredder.  It would take me weeks to file it chronologically.  But you know what?  I’m going for half-assed this time.  Martha Stewart isn't coming anytime soon to do a surprise inspection of my filing cabinet.  Heck, I probably won’t ever look in most of these files again except to toss them.

Thus, I’m signing off now to attack one pile.  I’m giving myself five minutes to cram the most important sheets into their respective files and recycle the rest.  Because good enough is enough already.