Saturday, April 15, 2006

What's not working?

Conveniences are all around us. From microwave ovens to electric pencil sharpeners, we have an abundance of tools that make our lives easier—provided they work. What a handy tool we have in that electric stapler—only it doesn’t work because it’s out of staples. How about that empty tape dispenser in your desk drawer?

This week, I challenge you to look at what’s not working in your world and do something about it. The electric stapler sits unused because it’s out of staples and you haven’t refilled it because you are out of (or can’t find) more. You have been meaning to order more but you keep forgetting. The next time you think about needing staples is—you guessed it—when you go to use that stapler and find it’s still empty.

As you come across these little annoyances, take a second to decide what needs to be done to fix it, and jot it in your planner. Don’t put getting staples on the list for today. Instead pick a day about a week out and start a list of little items to get. A week from now, you can handle that whole list at once.

Fixing the problem is the first step. The second step is deciding how to avoid the problem in the future. Think about this one—at your house, when do you decide you need to buy toothpaste? Is it when the tube runs out and you realize there are no more under the counter? Or, is it when you take the last one from under the counter? In the first case, you have a minor crisis—you need toothpaste NOW. In the second case, you just need to put toothpaste on the grocery list and go on about your business.

Ask yourself the same thing about supplies in your classroom. Do you order more when you are OUT or when your reserve is low? What about textbooks? If a new student enrolled tomorrow, would you have books for him? If not, why not go ahead and put in a request now, so that when you DO get another student—and you will—that you are prepared. You own 7 umbrellas, yet you never seem to have one in the car you when a downpour occurs. What could you do to fix that problem once and for all?

What else in your classroom doesn’t work? What about that regular pencil sharpener where the handle has been loose for 2 years? What would it take to fix that? You have two desks that are awfully wobbly. What would it take to fix them? Realize this is a thought process that seldom occurs to most people. Too many of us simply get so used to all of the things in our lives that don’t quite work that we soon stop thinking about them anymore.

Have you cleaned out your desk lately? If not, put it on your to-do list. Out go the pencils with no points, the dried-up ink pens, the empty packs of Sweet & Low, and a host of papers that never should have been there to start with. You will be amazed at what you find there that you had no idea you had.

Why do people resist thinking through what it takes to fix the little broken things? I think the answer lies in that thinking through what needs to be done creates a long to-do list for people who already have too much to do and try to keep up with all of it in their heads. For those of us who have a “capture tool,” life is easier. We take a second to jot down what needs to happen. We organize our list in a way that groups similar items together. Then, we handle a number of similar items all in one sitting.

Get all of those conveniences in your life working and watch some of the stress in your life go away.

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