Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Poor Filing Can Cost You Time

A couple of months ago, I reported that I was using the transitional time I need to move from Morning Gail to Work Gail to declutter my office. That worked quite well. Though I still have boxes of another family member's possessions on the floor, my general work area became tidier and more functional and has stayed that way longer than it ever has before because I continue to use a little transition time to work on it.

I found, though, that I had another problem, beyond clutter, that was costing me time. My filing cabinets/systems. In order to take care of the clutter on my desk and shelves, I often had to actually take care of it, file it away. That was often a struggle because I couldn't find files some of this material needed to go into. Right now I have an e-mail relating to a short story submission in my filing box because I have no idea where the story file is.

How serious can filing issues become? We have finished a book trailer for the Saving the Planet & Stuff e-book coming out in January. It includes quotes from reviews for the original hardcover edition. Last week while cleaning out a file related to the original book, I found a review I'd forgotten about with a fantastic quote. "Memorable, hilarious, and featuring a likable, unlikely hero." Kirkus Reviews  Marvelous, huh? We didn't include it in the trailer, and it doesn't even appear on my website right this minute because it was lost in my filing cabinet.

When that trailer becomes available, you will see that quote in it. But getting it in there has cost time. I don't do my own technical work, so if I didn't have a personal computer guy at my beck and call, it would probably cost me money, too. And it is all due to misfiling.

Filing is an important management and time management issue for all writers. But if you've been around the track a few times, as I have, it becomes huge. I've been writing for years. And I haven't just written those eight pubished books, all of which went through multiple drafts, involved months of correspondence, and required marketing effort (some degree of marketing effort, anyway). Drafts, correspondence, marketing--it all left a paper trail. On top of that, I've written books that haven't been published to date, as well as plenty of unpublished short stories and some essays. I have short form work I've been revising and resubmitting for years.

I have been trying to keep track of this stuff. Really.

Needless to say, I am now using my transitional time to overhaul my filing system. So far all I've been doing is cleaning out files for my published books, which was how I came to find the wonder quote I described above. I don't touch the contract or correspondence files. My efforts have been focused on the two files for each book related to marketing. It's been very rewarding. Two issues:

1. In Files, Piles and Stacks, from an older issue of Writers Weekly, Julie Hood says "The most important skill for an effective filing system is consistent naming which means each time you think of some "thing" you are trying to file or locate, you use the same name." And that, my little lads and lasses, is how I came to woe with my filing. (At least in this case. I may find other problems later on.) What I was doing is that I was creating a file for each book for "Promotion." That was for materials I was creating to promote my books. It would include press releases, for instance, copies of letters I mailed to whomever, and often lists of people I was considering contacting. Think of it as being for promotion I was generating. Then I was creating a file for each book for "Press." That was for reviews, newspaper articles about me, magazines articles that mentioned the book. Think of it as the "press materials" being generated by others.

This still works for me. The problem is that when I had "press materials" in my sweaty little hand, I would file them in either file. On a whim, I guess. I wasn't consistent about what the name meant or in thinking about what the file was for. I had something I wanted to disappear, and I wanted it to disappear into a filing cabinet. And it did.

So I'm fixing that.

2. Because those two files were a mess, and I didn't actually know what was in them, and I sure didn't want to take the time to look, I often just filed duplicate copies of items just to make sure I had them. I've been throwing away a quarter to a third of the contents of some of these files. This morning, I threw out a stack of paper that was higher than the contents of the file I kept. I had been filing entire newspapers, in some cases, because there was an article about me somewhere in them. I found multiple clippings because I must have filed one, found or was given others at some later point, and filed those, too. I've also thrown away fourteen- or fifteen-year-old copies of correspondence. These were letters to people working at publications. After all this time, if I want to contact those organizations again, I'll have to check to see that they still exist and look for new employees, anyway. The old letters are of no use to me now.

I've made so much room in one drawer that I've been able to move files from another drawer into it.

What have I learned from this experience? Be consistent and use transitional time for filing. My hope is that the files will stay more orderly, and if I don't let filing pile up, it won't take much time to do it correctly.

I am both looking forward to and anxious about getting to the short story and essay files. They are going to require...I don't even know what they're going to require.

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