Help! The mail is taking over!

January 16, 2008

Creating calm after the storm

A few weeks ago, I asked readers to send in questions about their home office struggles and anything they’ve been wondering about. I made this request partly because I just like to hear from you. :)

And also, of course, because I want to help.

I received an email from my buddy, Karen, who is a parent coach (and a darned good one!) in Portland, Oregon. Here is what she said:

Well, [my issue is] not at all wacky, but actually fairly boring. MAIL! It’s taking over! UGH!

Okay, taking a deep breath now. . . I got behind on a bunch of stuff and I’m a bit overwhelmed getting caught up again, so my desk looks like a typhoon hit it. Not sure when I will have time to clean it either. Thank god it’s a roll top!

Anyway, some strategies for handling mail and maybe for handling a back log without the overwhelm would be great!

The thing I love about Karen’s email is that it’s so honest. We all have times in life like this and maybe you laughed in self-recognition reading it – I know I did! So when you read this, Karen, just know that you’re in good company.

From the backlog – into flow

You probably know what a backlog looks like. If you say the word “backlog” out loud, it just feels depressing. And trying to “get through” a backlog pile can feel like a daunting, overwhelming, sloggy task.

Breaking it down

The most important thing to know about a pile of accumulated anything is that it’s made up of individual parts. It may look like one thing – a big pile – but if you look really closely, it has many separate pieces.

If you’re in the place that Karen describes, there’s just one way forward: pick up a single piece. Open it.

Then get rid of what you don’t want (envelopes, “don’t miss out” offers, credit card checks, etc.). Keep the bits that you really do want or need.

Then pick up the next piece. If you focus on one at a time, really focus on it, it helps keep the overwhelm at bay.

Tracking the important bits

If you do this for 20 minutes or so, what you’ll end up with is a pile of to-do’s. Things to file, things to follow up on, bills to pay, etc.

You may find it handy to write a list of these actions as you go so you don’t have to keep the whole pile on your desk to remind you.

Get support

If you’re overwhelmed by the pile you’re facing, that is totally okay (not to mention normal)!

You might want to do some self-nourishment before, during, and after the time that you work on it. Maybe you’d like a nice cup of tea or cocoa to sip on. Or some of your favorite music at a rousing volume. You could even include a trusted friend to assist you in person or maybe check in with someone by phone when you’re done to get a dose of encouragement.

It can also help to set a timer or otherwise restrict the amount of time you work on this project. A specific amount of time helps you make decisions faster and can give you some relief knowing an end is in sight.

Things to try

An overwhelm reframe

It’s common to have all kinds of fearful or judgmental thoughts about a backlog of stuff. If you notice these thoughts coming up, make space for them – and then remind yourself of how important your work is to you, your clients, to the world.

Instead of a “beat-self-up” session, choose to make your downsizing process an act of love and service to your business. Bring your heart into it.

Separate the wheat from the chaff

After establishing a time limit, pick up once piece at a time and decide what you’d like to do with it. Be kind to yourself by stopping when you agreed to (unless you’re really having fun).

Think sustainably

Next week, we’ll explore ways to stem the tide before it crashes in. Tune in then and find easy and encouraging ways to increase your peace and decrease mail-related stress before it happens.

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