Monday, September 14, 2009


I have spent this afternoon tackling the mounds on my desk. Granted, they should not accumulate in the first place. But, given that they do, this is hardly the time to be sorting them out. Where did August go? Now with the fall in full early swing, this ought to have been long done.

A tidy desk is definitely one of those unattainable but oh so attractive objectives in my life. I admire a tidy desk. A desk that gleams when the door is locked for the night, that is a beautiful thing. But it is not my desk. As I sit at my keyboard now, to my left are the stacks of music in progress or in waiting - guitar concertos for an upcoming afternoon concert, Christmas music, anthems to be filed away, a student composer's string quartet. To my upper right (NE, so to speak) - CDs that I have just played, intend to play, or tried to play and could not. Just beyond them, phone central, behind which is a short bookshelf with things I (supposedly) need to put my hands on often and quickly: hymnals, bibles, reference books, Sibelius users manual, "Introduction to Latin" (wait, what?), and a growing stack of CDs I am unlikely to open, much less listen to, but you know, I might, I might. Atop the shelves, publishers' recommendations. (Thankfully, I am on very few of those mailing lists.) To my immediate right, the desk blotter, and now I can see its entire surface; even that much, I am ridiculously proud of, when I walk out at night and my blotter is free of paper. Continuing to the far right and behind (SE, you might say) are the working vestiges of my afternoon organizing.

Some time ago, someone helped me deal with the paper blizzard (thinking in that metaphor, it must have been in Minnesota) with the acronym TRAF: Toss, Read, Act, File. It is important to get the acronym in the right order, for at least two reasons. The one I'll mention here is based on the old saw, "the quicker you file something, the longer it takes to find it." I think I know what that means, but the practical side of that is that paper piles up on my desk! So, one does not start the process - and definitely not the acronym - from the Filing end.

Toss - this is my favorite. My recycle basket fills up fast, and it looks like I'm accomplishing a lot from the get go. I rarely have regrets about things that get tossed. If they are overdue, they generally were not that important. I hardly ever find something that makes my heart sink with regret. One of the few perqs of procrastination.

Read - my first pile, on my left, and the last one I'll get to at the end of the process. Things I should read, whether they will take a minute or hours. I'm not going to sit down now and read them, but I know at the end of the day what reading is ahead of me.

Act - this is my "oh oh!" pile. As in, "oops, I should have done this by now." It may also include things that are on my own, self-imposed, long-range projects list. It is a pile that has to be got to, though not necessarily urgently. I may be able to dispatch the Act pile right away, but in any case it will be my work cut out for me.

File - finally, what is left can be put away. Today's Files went into my choir resources (Stuff that had accumulated for rehearsals, newsletters, and my own choral development), into general files, and that sweet folder "encouragement."

Now with everything sorted, I have a clear(-ish) desk, a better handle on the resources and materials at my immediate disposal, and an agenda for getting at some important work matters. My Act pile turned out to be smaller than I feared, and my Read pile more interesting than I dared hope. (Much of the Read pile is music, it turns out. Yippee!)

So, today was TRAFic control, and a timely exercise it was. I have just ordered my autumn weeks to provide blocks of time for a weekly definition and pursuit of goals, for a protected time monthly to keep up with my professional reading, and for a quarterly session off-site - an afternoon and morning "retreat."

Now to press on, in hope ...

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