Back when I worked as a receptionist at an architecture and design firm, I sat in the front of the office at a long, black desk. The desk housed my computer, a bunch of binders, some folders, business cards, pens, papers, staplers, random antiques, and more. Because it was a fast-paced small business, it was easy for my desk to become – I don’t want to say “the office dumping ground,” but…let’s call it as we see it.
Needless to say, a cluttered reception desk is not a desired feature in an award-winning design firm’s front office, and from time to time a fresh start was needed. The challenge, when this happened, was to figure out where to begin.
It’s not unlike writing. I have a number of projects “on the go,” so to speak, and there are times when I know I have an hour or so to work and just cannot figure out what to work on first. My friend’s novel edits? My own fiction? Maybe I should work on restyling my website. Or is it actually the living room that needs cleaned, the bathtub that needs scrubbed out, the bookshelf that needs to be moved into the other room and re-organized so I have a peaceful writing nook in the corner?
At times like these, I think of one time when I needed to clear off the reception desk. We’d received a special Magic 8 Ball as a Christmas present from one of our contacts, and I had made it my own, keeping it nearby because instead of the standard Magic 8 Ball answers, the company had had it customized with their own funny sayings and pieces of advice. As I stood and stared at the pile of papers, files, books, my boss’ personal belongings, stacks of business cards and more, I remember feeling that same richocheting feeling of desperation for prioritization.
I picked up the Magic 8 Ball and spun it around in my hands for a few seconds, more to give my mind something else to focus on than anything else, and said in a quiet voice:
“Where do I even start with this mess?!”
I flipped the 8 Ball over and waited for the geometric bubble inside to settle on which face held my fortune. When it did, I laughed out loud. What was the Magic 8 Ball’s advice?
I try to think of that advice when I can’t decide which project to give priority to. Just start. Just get something moving. When there are forty thousand things that need to be done, doing one of them takes it down to 39,999 things. Which is still a lot of things, but is one fewer thing than you had to do before.
I try to remember that now, when I hit moments like this morning: up two hours before my alarm, trying to make the best of my time because I know I’ll be tired by the end of the day.
Ninety minutes later, I’ve edited another 5-6 pages of a friend’s novel, written a thousand words on Electalytics, and finished this blog entry.
So if you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed, I share with you the advice from that Magic 8 Ball: