Thank you for the questions, Mary Jo! They made me take a close look at my own organization methods. My work, like yours, is made up of a number of segments whose relative importance varies over time:
- freelance/work-for-hire writing projects
- school visits and conferences
- miscellaneous (blog posts, marketing, publicity, volunteer work, special projects, etc.)
I have learned (the hard way!) to stuff tax-deductible expense receipts and payment stubs in file folders as soon as I receive and record them. I keep the Income and Expense folders on top of a filing cabinet next to my desk where I can reach them easily. I also keep a small notebook in the car to record mileage—trips to the library or office supply store as well as longer research travel. It all adds up. At tax time, everything is right there.
For my submissions, I created a Word table that lists manuscript titles across the top and editor names along the side. When I submit a manuscript, I enter the date in the cell where manuscript and editor meet. If a manuscript is returned, I add an R after the date and submit it elsewhere. If it is accepted, I delete the column from the table. I can easily see which manuscripts are out and which editors have something of mine to consider. I keep a copy of the table clipped to the outside of a file folder that holds printed copies of cover letters and manuscripts.
My explanation for the less successful methods is that I operate under the principle that I remember what I see.
Work-for-hire projects typically require research that results in many pages of printed or photocopied information. Until a project is completed, these papers tend to pile up, so I group them together in one spot, usually on the floor. What I don’t do religiously enough is sort through these piles as soon as a project is completed and file or recycle all that paper. I usually return library books in time to avoid huge fines.
My own writing in progress is stacked on a file cabinet next to my desk in a teetering pile that includes everything from scraps of paper with a few words scribbled during the night to a ring binder that holds a poetry collection I’ve been working on for ten years and several copies of a nearly finished novel. Periodically (usually after I finish something), I sort through this pile, shake my head, feel guilty for not finishing more, and pile it all up again. Once in a while, I find something that piques my interest, and I pull it out to work on. I have tried keeping track of these unfinished manuscripts, but most of them don’t have titles yet, so I probably wouldn’t even recognize the names on a list. (Aha—a revelation! Why is my most important work the least organized? Any suggestions?)
Now my teaching semester is wrapping up, time is running out, and papers are piling up all over my work area. I hope to use some of the coming break to sort, recycle, and file. Much of what is in my filing cabinets is obsolete. I will clean them out. I will be ruthless. I promise!
My goals for a system of organization:
- to prioritize
- to stay on top of everything
- to not allow something important to slip through the cracks
- to not handle papers over and over
- to not spend too much time searching for anything
- to be conscious of my surroundings, especially when papers start to pile up
I hope I’ve answered your questions, Mary Jo. You’ve certainly inspired me to take a closer look at what works for me and what needs more attention. I’m looking forward to my semester break and hoping to get better organized. Wish me luck!
P.S. I originally posted this yesterday, but the photos would not upload. I don't know why, but here they are!