STYLE Savvy - Getting Past Overwhelmed



As I write this (before Christmas), the semester is drawing to a close, and, if the paper blizzard in my house is any indication, my organizational systems could use some tweaking. True, many of these papers will be returned to my students, and, in my defense, this is the first semester I’ve taught three classes, and the first time I’ve assigned homework on close to a daily basis. As a result, the number of papers I’ve had to deal with has increased tremendously, overwhelming any system I had in place in my small home office and making my I need to see it/drop and run default styles readily apparent to anyone who steps into my house.

Now what?

Simple. Go back to STYLE.

  • Start with successes. Right now, this is challenging. My system and I are both so overwhelmed that it’s harder to see what’s working than what isn’t. Some of the things that have homes do make it there somewhat regularly. Others that don’t…well, they follow a pattern. Despite the fact that I know file drawers and binders don’t work for me as a drop and run organizer, I love the fact that when I do use them, retrieval is easy, so I keep trying to make them work…and ending up with paper blizzards. So, I know that filing things is good (a success), but, when life gets busy, having to file them in more than a drop and run fashion doesn’t happen. Consequently, the files need to be all in one place, general and flexible (try filing by class instead of class, unit and topic — one step instead of three) and easily accessible.
  • Take small steps. Papers don’t belong on a chair in the living room, and yet that is where they are living. Taking even five minutes at a time to sort, clear and return my chair to its intended function yields a huge payoff. I know. I’ve tried it.
  • Yes, it has a home! No, it doesn’t, in most cases. Therein lies the problem.
  • Let it go! This one will be easy. The majority of the papers will be returned to their rightful owners. Anything that remains will be sorted, giving me a visual of what needs to be tossed and what needs to be kept. The size and composition of the keepers will help me to determine what adjustments I need to make. Do I need to clear a drawer in my neglected file cabinet and establish it as the home for all course paperwork? While this is not typically the best choice for an I need to see it person, an active file used daily and color coded by one parameter (class) just might work.
  • Easy upkeep. Why bother? The semester is over. Why not just clear the clutter, file what remains and move on without making any changes? Because I am likely to have this same course load again next fall. Spending a busy semester using an outgrown system left me feeling scattered and left my house reflecting that fact. Something needs to change for easy upkeep of both my living space and my sanity.
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As I finish this post, I feel simultaneously energized and overwhelmed. I want to dig in and do this stuff, but there are papers and projects to grade, and those must come first. Still, keeping what comes next in mind and chipping away at it gradually as I work will help me make the progress I need to make. Knowing my new system will focus on a revised version of my current class-by-class system, I’m going to grab three bins from the basement (one for each class — and, yes, I always have containers on hand) and sort by class as I go, making both my current work and my future work easier. Then, by the time you’re reading this, I just might be in the throes of tweaking my system.


Copyright 2015 Lisa Hess.


About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and is a blogger at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and here at She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and two novels, Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.

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