Stationery Tarts and Productivity • 1 March 2012 • The SnowBlog
Stationery Tarts and Productivity
I do not like paperwork. I do not like opening letters and having to do something with all that paper. I do not like the sensation of how unutterably bored I know I will be if I finally tackle it all. I do not like the scruffy mess it all makes. And yet I also do not like getting behind with paperwork or seeing a pile of untouched letters piling up on my desk. It seems like whatever I do it's going to make me miserable. It's a conundrum. And in the last few years I've had heaps of extra paperwork to tackle, enough to fill shelves and shelves. But all is not lost. I've never yet banished the forces of paperwork, but I have found a glint of hope, a golden thread to follow which leads out of the gloom. Stationery!
Lucy Mangan has a piece about her love of stationery in the Guardian today which is what prompted me to share this homily with you. And it occurred to me that the ranks of publishing and authoring must be chock full of receptive ears for a topic like this.
I can't remember who first used the term 'stationery tart' within my earshot. Quite possibly one of the many Emmas I know - specifically the one I met at college (known to me for a while as 'College Emma', and, now that she's married, as 'Mrs College Emma'). Anyway, the term seems to suggest that most people with a stationery fixation are of the feminine persuasion. But it includes me as well, with my love of pens and notebooks and choosing the right ink. Though tragically my handwriting is so appalling, my attempts at making presentable marks on paper such an unnatural struggle, that I'm like a dog who chases cars: I don't have much legitimate use for stationery even when I do catch it.
But fortunately for me, 'stationery' has a comely mate: 'office supplies' - specifically premium office supplies. So think less sturdy 5-star box files and more Muji's frosted-polypropylene wallets and folders, or Paperchase's coloured paperclips - maybe even WHSmith's Zebra G-301s.
I combine these things with the Tolkienesque one-ring-to-rule-them-all: a Dymo label printer. I don't mean one of those handheld dealie-bobs that makes beautifully retro embossed plastic labelling strips. I mean a little USB-connected printer that you plug into your computer which makes perfect little self-adhesive labels. I use the appallingly-named Twin Turbo model because it lets me print big labels for addressing packages or small ones for labelling folders without manually changing reels. (Amazon UK link)
If you remember your bible (Genesis 2:19), you'll recall that humanity (well, possibly just the men; the bible is pretty dude-centric in places) has a duty to get out there and name everything (and then have dominion over it). But what it doesn't mention - perhaps because it's implied - is that after you name something you're going to want to label it, else chaos ensues, and having dominion over things becomes one big muddle.
I've got maybe thirty folders and perhaps a hundred wallets of paperwork, and each one is neatly labelled. That not only creates the all-important aesthetic impression that all is Under Control, it also means there's a place for every piece of paper that enters The System. And if there isn't a place for it, I break out a fresh folder, print a new label and create that place. That means that there's never a backlog in filing (unless it's because of my laziness). Once paperwork has been read and acted upon, it can immediately join those of its ilk, in date order, neatly squared at the edges, paperclipped together, slipped into a wallet and stacked in a folder, lined up on a shelf. The end result is that paperwork feels considerably less daunting or boring. Instead it's like a very design-oriented game of Post Office, where every letter opened is a chance to use some piece of appealing stationery or some fun little machine.
Naturally I have to hand a sheet or two of self-adhesive stamps from the actual Post Office, and a selection of DL, C4 and C5 envelopes - as well as padded envelopes in two sizes - so that outgoing post gets added to the pile with minimal delay.
I tend to briefly annotate each incoming letter before filing it, so that I have a written record of how I responded to it. I use a nice 0.5mm red Muji gel pen.
Find Muji here.
Then I make a note of what I've done in my date-ordered Evernote notebook.
If there's some important document, I scan it directly into Evernote using a Canon ScanSnap sheet-fed scanner, that's also portable. (Amazon UK link)
It'll handle everything from colour A4 documents to double-sided business cards.
That scanner can also save its scan files somewhere, so I direct them to a Dropbox folder. That means I've backed everything up 'in the cloud' as well as on my computer, plus it's indexed and available in Evernote - which (through the use of Dark Magic, also OCRs the words and lets me search for text among my scanned paperwork).
Evernote (and Dropbox) also have apps for iPhones (and I assume other smartphones too) so that I could check whether I paid my TV licence or applied for a new tax disc as the thought occurs to me, not just when I'm at my desk. I could even call up a scan of something important like my travel insurance policy when I'm a few thousand miles from my paperwork.
The point of all this is not just to waste money while getting organised; it's also to lower the psychological barrier to getting on with admin. It takes into account the advice that you shouldn't have a To Do list, because that's daunting, you should have a Have Done list, where you record your achievements. Well, my filing system of catalogued and ruthlessly organised records is a visual reminder of where all those boring hours went: they went into building a shrine to Completed Admin, a life-sized monument to Being On Top Of Things. And that's very comforting, even on days when I walk past it with no intention of opening a single letter. It reminds me that as Susan Jeffers so nearly said, you can Feel The Boredom And Do It Anyway. (At least on a good day.)