Kathi and Cheri Gregory continue the conversation about gutting your office. Do you have a hard time knowing what to do with the old projects stacked up in your office? Cheri shares the insights that kick started her office gutting project from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.
In today’s episode, you will learn:
- Electronic systems for keeping your valuable information organized.
- How to leave a road map for your future self.
- The question to ask yourself to help you know where to start.
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Transcript of this Episode
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Communicator Academy Podcast #186
What to Do with Old Projects – Part 2
Kathi – Well hey friends! Welcome to Communicator Academy, where our heart is to equip and encourage men and women to become the communicators God has created them to be. Right now, we are coming to you from The Red House – the Writing at The Red House retreat – Sharing Your Hard Story. I have one of the instructors here. Michele Cushatt as one of the instructors, but with me today is Cheri Gregory. Cheri, welcome back to Communicator Academy.
Cheri – Thank you so much for having me.
Kathi – Well, we just finished up a great podcast about – well, we were in the midst of a great podcast about gutting your office. We talked about some of the reasons why, especially for communicators, it’s hard for them to get rid of old books, research notes, those things that you woke up in the middle of the night and you wrote on a scrap of paper, and two years later, you’re like, “What was that? Is that hieroglyphics?” So, I wanted to talk about a few of the principles. I gave you a special pass, and I’m willing to give my listeners a special pass to gut their office one time. I do want to finish up this podcast by talking about how we can help you maintain your office, but you have been really inspired by this great book called Atomic Habits.
Cheri – I know you read it a year before, and I just didn’t jump on the bandwagon. I wish I had.
Kathi – “Listen to Kathi!”
Cheri – I know! That’s the theme of my life. “Listen to Kathi.” So I did. I was listening to it, and the timing was just right. In a somewhat early chapter, he talks about practicing environment design. I was like, “What is that?” We’ve all heard, “Don’t play office. You should be able to write anywhere.” So, I’m like, “Okay, I can’t organize my office until after I finish my current manuscript because if I organize my office, that’s Playing Office and it’s procrastination.”
Kathi – I’ve never heard of Playing Office.
Cheri – Buying office supplies. Making colored file folders.
Kathi – So, everything that cluttery people and writerly people want to do.
Cheri – Yes. So, in my mind, I somehow had read too many articles about how that’s a form of avoidance.
Kathi – I love that idea of Playing Office. You’ve probably heard me tell this story. I was going to a productivity seminar and the instructor was talking about how this guy came up to him with his Filofax (you can tell I went to this thing in the ‘90s) and he was showing him all the colored tabs and everything like that, and he was like, “Jimmy, this is amazing. Look how much you have focused on productivity.” So, the instructor was talking to some of Jimmy’s coworkers and said, “Oh, I just say Jimmy’s organizer, and man, that is one organized guy.” And one of the women in that group said, “Yeah, Jimmy spends all his time saddling up.” He said, “What do you mean by that?” and she said, “He’ll spend an entire day organizing a system, but he can’t return an email.” It’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to be that person. I want to be the person who does my 500 words. I want to be the person who puts up the blog post; creates the podcast.” So, I love the idea of Don’t Play Office, however…
Cheri – However, he goes on to say, “Too often we try to start habits in a high friction environment. We try to start a strict diet when we’re out to dinner with friends, and…” and this is the one I highlighted, “…we try to write a book in a chaotic household.” I was like, “Oh! Or a chaotic office.” As I said last time, it was so bad, I was on the couch, which is not where I am my most productive. So, I was like, “Oh, so there’s a difference between Playing Office, that’s procrastination, and the necessary discipline of Environmental Design where I create an office (and I’m fortunate to have an office) that actually works for me, and is a place I will work.
Kathi – Right. I love that idea. Environmental design and seeing that “I want to accomplish great things here and my environment needs to support that.” This is one of the quotes you were talking about from Atomic Habits by James Clear. “Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.” I talk about this all the time in the kitchen. Except for the kitchen, I don’t know where it would apply more. Well, you know what? Let’s talk about in your bedroom. Create an environment where going to sleep is the easiest thing you can do. But, in your office, if I have to clear off my desk before I write, every time? If I have to look at that stack of bills and I’m like, “Oh, I need to write something right now, ‘cause I need money.” If I have to move the dog food containers, whatever it is, before I can be productive, then what I’m doing…It’s what we try to teach our children. You can’t do your homework when the TV’s going with the headphones and your phone in your hand. Yet, we’re sitting down to chaos, trying to write a book.
Cheri – Yes, and there’s one other thing that is very similar that he says. “Whenever you organize a space for its intended purpose, you are priming it to make the next action easy.” In the margin of my book, I literally wrote, “Do this in my office.” That’s when it all started. I’m like, “Oh. I need to get in there and make it possible for me to do what that office is for.” In my case, that’s write. It’s a form of deciding to be kind to my future self.
Kathi – That’s exactly what we want to do; be kind to our future self. So, when we sit down to write, we should have what we need there. That’s why I leave myself a roadmap. When I’m writing my next thing, I often finish in the middle of a sentence, so that I already have a roadmap to what I’m doing. I’m priming the pump for the next day, so that I have that information. Now, it was really interesting when we were talking about why we don’t get rid of stuff in our offices, especially writers. Fear. “What if I need it someday?” Guilt. “I’ve been given these books. I’ve been given this information.” Shame: “I spent so much money on that conference, I need to keep these things until Jesus comes back.” Here’s the thing I’ve learned about hoarders. Hoarders keep things out of fear, but they never use those things. If you are hoarding something, you will never actually use, enjoy, any of those thing. We are hoarders of information, oftentimes. What we hoard, we don’t use. So, if we’re keeping all those binders, or we’re keeping all those things, we’re never going to use them, because they’re not set up for us to be able to easily retrieve, or to go back to. They don’t have the value. Even if we spent a thousand dollars on that conference, that thousand dollars is the change we experienced in that conference, not usually one piece of information we wrote down in a notebook.
Cheri – And one of the reasons I’m really working on doing a better job with digital organization of the things I choose to keep, is because it’s searchable. Even when I did a really good job about making binders about all the things, when I needed a key quote, or key concept, trying to remember what year it was? Trying to remember what event? What set of notes? I almost never can find it, whereas on the computer, I usually have a sense of what one or two words in it were. Searching has got so much better, especially if it’s in Google Drive, or something, Evernote, or whatever device that works for you, those things are popping straight up. I’m like, “There’s the one thing that I needed.”
Kathi – Let’s talk about this, because you and I had an experience recently. I don’t know if you remember it. You were looking for…
Cheri – Yes!
Kathi – Okay, talk about that. The recognition.
Cheri – Oh my, word. Yes. When you released, I Need Some Help Here: Hope for When Parenting Doesn’t Go According to Plan, you and I had an email exchange in which I talked about how parenting is a grief process. We have to grieve the parent we thought we were going to be, and we have to grieve the children we thought we would have. Nobody tells us this. I remember it being a particularly articulate email. Not really long, but long enough that there was some good stuff in there. Kathi, you know me, I probably printed ten copies of that. I probably put it in ten different binders. At that moment, they were probably all in my office, but you were the one that found that email for me.
Kathi – Well, you had looked on your computer.
Cheri – I had switched email programs between times, so I couldn’t access Outlook anymore.
Kathi – Oh, okay. You told me, “Do not spend more than three minutes on this.”
Cheri – I meant it.
Kathi – I think I probably spent six, because that’s how much I love you.
Cheri – Thank you, I appreciate that.
Kathi – It was there. You know, it’s so much about that. “What was that time? At that place? Where were we talking?”
Cheri – I also want to say, I had given up on it, if you couldn’t have found it, and I appreciate you looking for it, but I had chosen – and this is the personal discipline for those of us that think, “If I don’t find that one idea, I can’t move forward with this blogpost/book/freebie/whatever.” No. God would have given me something else. I would have recovered. That’s perfectionism. Let’s call it what it is. That’s perfectionism speaking. That said, I’m very grateful that you found it.
Kathi – You know what? I always love when I can do something. So, I want to talk about how you are currently using a couple different tools. Let’s talk about Google Drive first. You have found that this is a great system for you. It’s helping you retrieve stuff. How are you using it?
Cheri – I’m actually using it the way it’s intended. For those of use that used to use Google Doc, whatever it used to be called back in the day, where if you weren’t logged in the exact right email address, you couldn’t access your own information, let alone what was shared with you. I think it’s got a lot more intuitive, now, so the moment you create a document, you can share it with whomever you want.
Kathi – By the way, I’ve been very opposed to Google for a long time.
Cheri – Because it hated us.
Kathi – It was so mean. It’s like, if you were not logged in the exact right way, and doing all these thing? And I have three different emails attached to different things.
Cheri – It was like constantly being excluded from the Cool Kids’ Club, but you started the Cool Kids’ Club and they wouldn’t let you into your own club. That was wrong.
Kathi – It’s gotten much more better. Ugh. Can you tell I’m a professional communicator? It’s got much better and much more intuitive.
Cheri – Because so much of what I do is collaborative, whether it’s writing or even the book I’m writing is a solo project, but I’m collaborating with my writing coach. So, that’s of the reasons I’m using Google Drive, but I didn’t even know you could do folders. Just the process of deciding, “What are my big buckets? Am I going to bucket it by brand, or am I going to bucket it by blog post?” So, that took me some time to think it through. I’m just treating them like I would treat binders. You know, for me, things start as a piece of paper, then they move to a clipboard, then they move to a binder. So, part of the reason I had to gut my office, is I hadn’t dismantled the binders. So, what I’m trying to do now is think, “Okay, a folder is like a binder. I can put folders within folders if I need to.” I also used to be the person who was like, “Oh, I’ve created this amazing thing, but I’ll probably never use it again, thus I won’t save it.” So, I don’t think it’s hoarding to say, “You know what? That was a pretty good email. It might work as template. Let me save it somewhere.” The other thing that’s so nice about online is, you can give things a long name. So, for me, I’ll put ‘spread sheet’ and ‘ss’ in the same title, because who knows what I’m going to search for down the road?
Kathi – Right! You’re leaving a roadmap for your future self. Okay, but this is not your first time organizing, or your first time gutting.
Cheri – It’s ongoing.
Kathi – No no! That’s okay. Who said for the first time, “Clutter is never one and done.”? That was Cheri Gregory.
Cheri – Was it?
Kathi – Yes!
Cheri – No. She would never say such a thing. I didn’t know that.
Kathi – Here’s the other thing you just sent me recently. You had quite the victory when you were looking for curriculum this year.
Cheri – Yes! I used Duck Pack & Track.
Kathi – Duck Pack & Track.
Cheri – Oh, yeah. Whenever you introduced it to us, I lined up some banker’s boxes, and I went through all my school stuff, ‘cause I do still teach literature and composition. So, I clustered everything by the resources I might want to look for, but I had one box per quarter. The thing I loved about the Pack and Track is, not only could I type out what was in each box, I could take pictures.
Kathi – So, if you don’t know what Duck Pack & Track is, this is my number one favorite organizing tool. It’s an app on your phone, but you also purchase the labels. The labels go on your box, you use a QR code to scan the name of the box, you type it in, and also, put in the box. You can take a picture of the box and you can list the contents of the box, so when you are looking for the Code Names Game, it’ll tell you it’s in Box 19 in the attic. It just makes me so happy, I just can’t even stand it. It’s one of my favorite things. What I’m going to be using it for, now, as we’re doing these Writing at The Red House retreats? Every retreat is going to have its own small box and its own information. I can leave myself future notes and things like that. Those are a couple of tools that are really helpful. So, I want to talk just for a couple of minutes, what you can do now so that you don’t have to gut again. You may have to gut again.
Cheri – No!
Kathi – You don’t want to gut again.
Cheri – No. That’s not an option for me. It was painful and it did use up time. I’m grateful to have had the time. I’m grateful I don’t have small children. I couldn’t have done it that way. What I realized is, monthly, I need to schedule on my calendar, a couple of hours at the end of each month, to look around all my spaces and say, “Okay, is it time for this piece of paper to become a clipboard? Is it time for this clipboard to become a binder? And if so, which binders do I need to quickly dismantle and get rid of, because I can only do so many things in this one and only life. Then, quarterly, I need to spend about half a day really reevaluating. At that point, there were so many unfinished projects, Kathi. You know that about me. I don’t feel guilty about it anymore. I like starting things. I’d rather have other people finish them. Which is why it was ultimately easy when I got rid of all my crafting stuff. So, to be able to reevaluate and go, “Oh. I thought I was going to do this.” For instance, I started an eCourse, Five Simple Steps to Becoming a Better Writer. I’m never going to finish it. I put a lot of time into it. So, I dismantled the eCourse binder, but I kept anything that would become a good blogpost, for my Right Beside You blog. So, there’s not point keeping the eCourse binder.
Kathi – It’s not going to serve you.
Cheri – It’s not going to serve me.
Kathi – That’s the mind shift. We have to say, “I no longer have to serve these projects, but is there anything in those projects that will serve me, and serve my readers, and serve them well?”
Cheri – I also did something really silly, but I’ll share it, just in case you can come up with a great concept out of it. One of the reasons I didn’t work out of my office, aside from all the clutter, was that the main table in my office that we brought from Southern California when we moved almost 15 years ago now. It’s a nice big table, but it has a textured surface to it, you know how those plastic tables sometimes do? So, I hate writing on it, because you know, if you use a pen, it’s bumpity bumpity. I had two smaller tables that were perfectly smooth, so I finally gave myself permission. The day I started the gutting I said, “Cheri, you’re going to go buy a new table.” I did my research, and could get a slightly longer one, and it’s going to have a smooth surface.” I go to Staples, and would you believe their small tables have smooth surfaces, but their big tables have textured surfaces? I’m like, “Dang it!” Whoops. Sorry, “Darn it!”
Kathi – Wait. You think ‘Dang’ is worse than ‘Darn’?
Cheri – I don’t know. Shoot. I couldn’t think of a better euphemism. I live such a sheltered life.
Kathi – I love that you corrected ‘dang’ with ‘darn’. Dang is so much worse!
Cheri – Protestant guilt. What can I say? Here’s your outtake for this episode.
Kathi – I’m so leaving that in. Okay, please, go ahead.
Cheri – This was going to be my big start to the big gutting. I was going to get a truly functional table, so for a moment, I froze. “I can’t gut my office now.” I had given myself permission to spend some money on. So, long story short, I ended up at Home Depot, and I found a huge board, very thin and lightweight. Perfectly smooth surface for $12.99. They cut it to the exact size I needed.
Kathi – This is exactly what I was going to tell you to do.
Cheri – I did it, and I took it home and I put it on, and it was the domino that felled everything else. This is now my work surface, because I had been working on the kitchen table which was smooth, but then I’d have all my stuff out there, with my family. So, how ultimately foolish was it that I waited years to correct this one little problem.
Kathi – But you don’t know until you know.
Cheri – I was like, “This is the reason I don’t use a pen or a pencil at this table, which means I don’t do my brainstorming, my editing, and ultimately my writing.”
Kathi – So, I think part of what we’re going to leave our listeners with today is, you have to walk into your office. If you were leaving your office for somebody else, what would you tell them? “Okay, this may hang you up.” Think about that, and what could I correct?
Cheri – Like the first time you stayed at our house and I had to leave you a five page, detailed description of all the quirks of the house. That’s a great exercise, because what you’re doing is, you’re saying, “What’s wrong with the work flow?”
Kathi – Yeah! What trips me up every day? If you’re banging your knee against the table every single day, what can I do to no long bang my knee?
Cheri – I thought I was also going to go buy a new chair, and I realized, I don’t have a problem with my chair. My chair is just fine.
Kathi – Yeah. We just replaced our chair, because I’m like, “I don’t go over and write, because I don’t like the chair.”
Cheri – So, maybe getting out a piece of paper, or keeping a journal for a few days, and noticing what are the obstacles?
Kathi – I wasn’t going to bring this up, but in The Clutter Free Home, we talk about, what’s the purpose of the room? What am I dedicating this room to? Often times, the problem is, we have too many cross-purposes in a room.
Cheri – Mine became storage.
Kathi – Yeah! To say, “What is the intention for this room?” So, you dedicate the space and you make decisions about how to make the space work for you, and then you declutter. You’re decluttering along a purpose now, and then you get to do your thing. Maybe you get to hang the new picture or something like that. What we often do is hang the new picture to make it look cute, then the cute gets absorbed into the clutter.
Cheri – So, you’re explaining what I did with my boxes of books. Most of the time, the big boxes come with 52 or so books. Well, first of all, those are heavy, so when I put those in my office for storage, I wasn’t moving them. I broke them up into much smaller boxes, 18 books each, and now they fit under my bed.
Kathi – Oh my, goodness.
Cheri – So, they’re out of my office. The office is no longer being used for storage. It’s a dedicated purpose, which is writing.
Kathi – You guys, I love this so much. Here’s the thing. We’ve talked about creating the environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. We just want you to be less overwhelmed so that you can do what God has called you to. One of the things we want to do is give you a copy of Overwhelmed. That’s the book that Cheri and I wrote together. So much of our conversation and our lives is based on it. So, if you tell us one thing that you have done or want to do, in your writing space to make it better, and comment on this podcast, we’re going to choose two people to win a copy of Overwhelmed. Cheri, thanks so much for being on Communicator Academy.
Cheri – Oh, thanks for having me. It’s been great.
Kathi – And friends, thank you for joining us. You’ve been listening to Communicator Academy. I’m Kathi Lipp. You’ve been given the best message in the world. Now, go live it.
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned item
Meet The Guest
Cheri Gregory is a teacher, speaker, author, and Certified Personality Trainer. Her passion is helping women break free from destructive expectations. She writes and speaks from the conviction that “how to” works best in partnership with “heart, too.”
Cheri is the co-author, with Kathi Lipp, of The Cure for the “Perfect” Life and the upcoming Overwhelmed.
Cheri has been “wife of my youth” to Daniel, her opposite personality, for twenty-eight years and is “Mom” to Annemarie (25) and Jonathon (23), also opposite personalities.
Cheri blogs about perfectionism, people-pleasing, highly sensitive people, and hope at www.cherigregory.com.
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