Real Life. Real People.
Tackling Desk Stress

What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!
From Chapter 9: I'm Too Busy To Make A List Of All The Things On My "To Do" List

When Red's "crisis" began she went from her perfect world to one filled with chaos, and did not know where to start. At the time Black explained she needed to focus on only the most important things and so Red's "pretty lists" had been ignored. As was all the paper that had managed to pile up on her desk and soon overflowed into piles on the floor.

If one big list isn't the answer, what is? And where do I start? And what about everything that's lost somewhere in these mountains of paper? There's no way I can go through all these piles and organize everything into lists. It would take forever!
Chill! Those mountains are causing you stress due to their mere presence. Those piles of paper represent unmade decisions and incomplete tasks. And as they grow, so does your stress level.
No kidding!
And if you let them keep growing, you will get to a point where you will have ignored everything for so long that trying to figure out what you really need to do will be such a major project that you will feel totally overwhelmed.
Too late, I'm already there. Any chance I can wave a magic wand and make it all disappear? And start from a clean slate? And a clean desk? And clean floors?
You and your magic wands! You have been watching too much Disney. If you want to start clean — throw everything away and start over.
That's not an option! I know some things in these piles can continue to be ignored, but I also know there are things hiding in there that are important.
If you can not throw the piles away you have no other option than to go through them. The good news is it is more important to know what you are ignoring than it is to actually deal with everything in the piles. Make it a two-prong attack.
You have not seen these piles. Two-prong? Try twelve-prong.
That is one of the things I hate about IM. You can keep interrupting me.
  Remember when we were doing your expenses and you sorted things into "required" vs. "discretionary?" Well, you are going to do something very similar with these piles. Take a handful off the top and start sorting it into piles based on priority — immediate, this week, next week, next month, next lifetime. If your piles are similar to mine, there will be plenty of non-essential things, such as filing, reading (miscellaneous magazine or newspaper articles) and general correspondence (things with no deadlines). I would start separate piles for those.
  Once you get that done, keep only the most important piles on your desk. Move every thing else to the floor. Then you can focus on what is on your desk and start to put together your "To Do" list based on the priority of these papers. Obviously, if you have items that need to be done immediately, you may have to stop your sorting and handle them, but otherwise keep working.
  If it makes you feel any better, I bet most of your piles will end up being things you can continue to ignore, or at least that are not important enough to earn a place on one of your beloved lists. In fact, I am sure that most of it will not even make it to your desk! Getting started is the hardest part, but it is something you can easily work on in 15- or 30-minute increments and make slow, but steady, progress. So get off IM and start.
Are you done? Can I say something?