Mea, Sort Of

All of the boxes in the foreground have been emptied; the yellow one is more than half-full of paper bound for the shredder; the box in front of the plant is in progress; and the dog at the back is a nonchalant supervisor.

Three things have happened this young year, probably not in the order they should have, but nonetheless I have become obsessed, and it’s interfering with my blogging, big time.

I can’t tell you why, because I set no resolution, nor resolve, nor anything else, but the first Saturday of January I opened an unsorted drawer of my file cabinet and I sort of started sorting it. I helped myself to the box Lynn’s towel warmer Christmas gift came in, and I managed — you probably have no idea the magnitude of this statement — to put probably two reams of paper in this box, designated for Judy Barry who handles my shredding.

I felt so darn productive, although later I realized I had thinned out papers inside the file cabinet, so no one including me could see any sign of progress. But then it occurred to me I had created Space — enough Space in which to put the contents of a cardboard box reposing in our overstuffed garage.

So I grabbed a large banker’s box filled to the brim with “unsorted paper,” which it certainly was, and while I didn’t pause to sort it, I did winnow it, and skimmed another ream or two —

[A friend quarreled with the use of this word as a unit of measure, but Merriam-Webster tells me a “ream” can mean many things, including “a quantity of paper being 20 quires or variously 480, 500, or 516 sheets.” Trust me: I’m working on a bushel of quires.]

— off into the shredding and recycle piles. It was only one box, but it opened up a place in the garage for one of my newly condensed and reorganized tubs of Christmas decorations.

Somewhere in this process I encountered a couple other things to further my zeal. I think this came third, but I saw James Corden, normally of late late night, but in this one instance up at some ghastly hour to be the interviewee rather than the interviewer on CBS Mornings.

Mr. Corden was talking about his recent and on-going weight loss. He said his approach this time around was different; he was treating it as a lifestyle change. If you merely go on a diet, he said, that suggests you reach an endpoint after which you go back to your old way of life.

Just a few days before that, I was on the internet on my way to search for something when Mozilla, as it so kindly does, offered up reading material, and for whatever reason I bit, landing on a website belonging to Nir Eyal (nirandfar.com). At the bottom, which I only just saw today, he (?) pimps his workbook and book, but I only read the top part, the part where he tells you to forget goals and resolutions, because they are destined to fail.

Here, in his own words:

I call these kinds of goals “BUT Goals” because they are Big, Un-fun, and Time-boxed. These kinds of goals add misery to your life and people are biologically programmed to avoid things that cause them pain.  If your goals are not enjoyable, you’ll quit.  Therefore, when creating productive habits, remember: hard work doesn’t work, so dump the goals.

Instead, forget the end destination and begin a journey.  Your journey must be enjoyable, endless and easy. It is along a journey that your productive habits will form. A journey sounds something like this:

  • “I want to cultivate a love of exercise.”
  • “I want to learn to enjoy building wealth.”
  • “I want to enhance my enjoyment of time with my family.”

Then he introduces the concept of MEA. Not as in “mea culpa, look at the mess my life has become,” but an acronym for Minimum Enjoyable Action. Instead of doing something that becomes drudgery, ensuring you won’t stay with it, he recommends breaking things down to components you feel you can do and would like to do.

I don’t know if I buy all of this. As his example, he cites someone who wishes to journal each night before bed (or blog before work, say). Maybe the initial MEA is simply setting out a journal and a pen.

I could see someone — say, like me — setting out their journal and pen, or picking up their computer and opening to WordPress, and then deciding there is not time to blog, I mean journal. And I can go on, happily opening my computer to WordPress day after day, but I’m not sure that ever advances me toward actually regaling you with something.

So then I panic. Because instead of worrying about journaling, or blogging, I am now focused on getting my many, many (many) boxes of paper out of the garage and off floors and into various assorted file cabinets before my minimum enjoyment minimizes back into inaction.

I have devoted almost all of my January weekend time and many of my mornings to paper sorting, certain that this is going to come to a crashing halt like last year’s plan to digitize all my photos, which hit a couple small snags regarding the similarity of so many of my pictures and the sortation required there, and then hit a major snag when Vann printed a picture for me at work, only to discover I’d scanned all of them at very low resolution. Fine for a digital picture frame, perhaps, but not if I ever want to print one out. It was deflating.

This time, what I think will get me is the immense size of the project, which does come with a goal no matter what Mr. Eyal is counseling. Papers are going into the file cabinet in no sense of order whatsoever, not by date or subject matter or paper size, all just chunked in with a vague notion that once I empty all the extant boxes — I might find more, but for now I think I have four to go, and some of those might not even contain paper — I will then turn to actual sortation, perhaps continuing to purge as I go.

I’m pretty sure I don’t need every newsletter my sci-fi group got from a Klingon group in Denver, particularly since the Klingon sending them got mad at us en masse, I don’t remember why. But since I came across these epistles at random, I don’t even have a clear sense of how many I might have.

And before you tell me to just chuck everything in every box, since none of them have been opened in a minimum of 2.5 years, I have uncovered many a treasure that has made me smile before I moved it from the box to the filing cabinet, about which I might go into more detail whenever my sorting project crashes and burns and my mornings become free for some other habit that is less goal-oriented. Blogging, say, with no goal other than to blither about my world for all to read.

But for now I am sorting, sort of, and it’s making me feel productive, and so I keep going, afraid that if I take too many days off the days will become weeks will become months will become years . . . I think this in a vacuum because nothing like that has ever happened before when I’ve attempted to organize my files, but it might could this time.

If you don’t hear from me, then, it’s because I’ve prioritized my daily Minimum Enjoyable Action — I only have room for one in my life — on paper rather than pixels.

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