Take Room to Breathe
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
If your desk is piled with paper and you're buried under projects, you don't need time management. You need to slow down, says this author.
"Why are so many individuals today overwhelmed, deluged and exhausted? My eleven-year inquiry reveals that powerful social and cultural forcesare turning each of us into human whirlwinds.
"This is not how it has to be," insists Breathing Space author Jeff Davidson.
Mega realities speed us up
Five mega realities cause "hurry sickness," says Davidson. These are:
1. Population growth,
2. An expanding volume of knowledge,
3. Mass media growth and electronic addiction,
4. The paper-trail culture,
5. An overabundance of choices.

Corporate managers both live with and manage three of the five mega realities-knowledge, media relations and paper.
Simplify, simplify, simplify
To cope, Davidson recommends following certain "fresh air" principles.
1. Protect yourself from exploding knowledge. Turn off your information receptors several hours each day. Don't read anything on Saturday or Sunday. Drop out of the losing battle to "know it all."
2. Reduce exposure to hypercharged media. Give up sound-bite news for in-depth reports [MacNeil-Lehrer, C-Span etc.]. Don't listen to television or radio while dressing for work or commuting. Totally ignore news coverage of spectacular events that don't directly affect you (e.g., plane crashes, earthquakes). Stop being a media catch-all. Instead, pick one cause and devote time to it.
3. Instead of trying to decide what to throw away, make every paper that comes into your office justify its existence. Be ruthless.
4. Free yourself from too many choices by refusing to make low-level decisions (where to go for lunch, which pen to use, etc.). Stick with choices you've already made (in computer software, for example). Insist on products that are easy to use.
Davidson also addresses the problems of filing, clutter and creative space. He advises several steps toward solutions.
Get files under control
* Set up files for items you will be managing and collecting (called "beforehand" files). These take the place of papers strewn about.
* Decide what should be on your desk, near it and in it. For the top of the desk, Davidson suggests only computer equipment, a telephone and a few frequently used items. Busy communicators may even need two desks: a clear surface for creative work and an administrative outpost.
* Clear your desk each evening. Credit yourself for what you have accomplished that day. Don't beat yourself up over what's undone.
* Store items you use frequently (pens, calendars, notepads, calculators) at multiple stations (your car, your briefcase, your office, your home).
Get rid of clutter
* When reading, tear important pages out of magazines, newsletters and reports. Copy key pages from books. Integrate these into your beforehand filing system and toss the remainder.
* If your boss's office is cluttered, buy 100 fire-engine-red folders and deliver your clearly labeled assignment in these folders.
* Limit your own messages to a sixth or a quarter of a page (short messages are more likely to be read). Use both sides of the paper.
* Once a quarter, reexamine everything in your office and practice creative trashing.
Create quiet spaces
* Plan to return from vacation one day before announced. Use this day for yourself as a decompression phase.
* If you're facing a crunch, demand undisturbed space with no distractions. Hang signs on your door. Don't answer the phone.
* Break through procrastination by asking yourself, "What are three to five things I could do-not to tackle the project headlong-but just to dabble?" Then initiate these easy-entry activities.
Nancy Rathbun Scott is a business writer living in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached at author@nancyscott.com. Visit www.nancyscott.com for more information.

@2004 Nancy Scott