It happened week before last. The thing that prompted this whole “get-organized” endeavor. I lost a computer file of pictures. Important pictures. Pictures for my website, my author bio. A full-fledged hunt ensued. I clicked on the wastepaper basket. It had recently been automatically emptied. If only the real trash would take itself to the curb as efficiently.

Enough was enough. I had to take back control. I am an organized person. Just ask anyone who knows me. My writing group is still freaking out over a confession in one of my stories that my frozen foods are arranged left to right, top to bottom. (How else are you supposed to read the labels?) But, things had gotten out of hand. A typical case of having too much to do and not enough time to do it.

So, I did what I always do when faced with a daunting new task. I bought a book. Getting Things Done by David Allen. Armed with this book, Internet research and tips from organizational guru Stephen R. Covey, I learned a few things. This week, I feel a lot better. And that’s what it’s all about, after all. Feeling less stressed.

First, I employed Covey’s “big rocks” technique. Monday morning brought an unexpected, time-consuming task. My writing coach needed a query letter for an agent. If you read last week’s post, you know this is one of my big rocks. So, I dealt with it immediately. Granted, other things (like paying bills) didn’t get done that day. They got done the next. The point is, I would’ve been more stressed having the letter unwritten than the electricity unpaid. Prioritizing was working.

Next, I went against any piece of organizational advice ever written. I shopped. Conventional wisdom dictates that you not purchase organizational items, like storage bins, color-coded file folders or label makers, until you sort through your stuff and see what you need. I say phooey. Clearly, the experts don’t know how happy this makes me. I figure staying motivated should count for something. And besides, things are sold with sales receipts for a reason. On the other hand, if a paper shredder doesn’t excite you and Office Depot feels like an overwhelming warehouse just pointing out your ineptitude — don’t shop yet.

And, much to the dismay of my tab-tallying challenged friends, I have to give hail to the power of the list. You have to get things off your mind, so your mind is relaxed and able to deal with real work. Stress is created when your mind reminds you 15 times that you need a gallon of milk when you’re nowhere near a store. What a waste of energy! If you have a trusted system and write it down, your mind can let it go, freeing itself to work on more important matters. David Allen suggests in his book that you have one place to collect all these things to do. For me, my email works best, because I get a lot of work and can create lists there. Maybe for you, it’s your physical “in box” or your Blackberry.

Other tips I picked up? The two-minute rule. If it can be done in two minutes or less, just do it. Right that second. When I went through my email with this tidbit in mind, it was eye-opening. The number of silly little things I had let build up and work me up that could have been easily attended to was ridiculous.

Also, consider checking your email or voicemail only at certain times of the day. The type of work you do will best dictate this. Maybe you need to be available as things happen. If not, checking your in box at certain intervals will give you a better sense of control and calm. You can also quickly refile (or delete) items like forwards or jokes.

And what about those time-sucking addictions of ours? Log in to Facebook or other networking site for a quick look and the next thing you know it’s lunchtime. Discipline yourself to rule your time so it doesn’t rule you. (This goes double for me and blog stats.)

Lastly, pick a time for a weekly review. A time to look over those to-do’s and remind yourself of their existence. If you’re like me, you’ve read through them every night anyway.

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