Category Archives: Process

The wonders of TRAF

If you’re alive in today’s world (and believe me, with some people I really wonder), you just can’t get away from managing your in-box. Even if you don’t work in an office, you still have something known as a mailbox, a perpetual in-box if there ever was one. Stuff comes in, and it all needs to be addressed. How do you keep from getting buried under all the garbage?

That’s where TRAF comes in. I can’t remember where I first heard about this process, but it works.

Trash It
Ninety percent of the stuff that appears in your in-box can be trashed. Right away. Ads, promotions, those annoying credit card offers. I like to keep one bin for recyclable paper and a shredder right by the front door. When mail comes in, most of it goes right out again. Same goes for an in-box at work: recycled or shredded right away. The email in-box is even easier. Read, delete. Read, delete. Getting a little zealous with the delete button can be a liberating experience.

Refer It
Of the material that’s left, normally just 10% or less of the original mound, you can refer about ninety percent away. Refer it to someone else. Send those memos on to your subordinates. Hand the lingerie or motorcycle parts catalog to your spouse. Not your problem!

Act on It
Now that you’ve whittled your way to the 1% that’s left, you’re probably going to have to do something with it. Act on it. Don’t wait. You’ve done the lion’s share of the work, so now close it out. Pay the bill, sign the memo, make that follow up call. Just get it done.

File It
You may discover something that you can’t trash, can’t refer, and can’t act on right now. It just sits there looking at you stubbornly saying “I’m here to mess up your Karma”! The last and best thing to do with such annoying material is file it. Put it away where it can’t do any harm, until such time as you must act on it.

Building an amazing filing system is a topic for another day. In the meantime, you can use the ever-powerful TRAF filing system to help unclutter your in-box.

An Article about TRAF from Stephanie Winston’s Book, The Organized Executive
– Here’s a word document that discusses the technique.

Stash stuff in your environment

Driving in to work at the military academy this morning, I really needed some chapstik. Normally I carry a chapstik and a USB flash drive in my right front pocket. But last night I delivered a lecture in my flight suit, and the stick was still in one of the sleeve pockets. Those sleeve pockets are just perfect for such small objects that need to be close at hand. Unfotunately, I don’t wear a flight suit to work any more.

This brings up a tactic for smoothing out all the daily disappointments and lost opportunities brought about by a distracted mind (I’m not going to say forgetful.) I like to stash stuff in all my normal haunts. At first glance this may seem at odds with the goal of crafting a life free of karmic garbage. But sometimes having more lets you DO more. I keep a small first aid kit in my desk at work, in the pickup truck, and in the basement shop. When you need a bandaid, you need it NOW. You can’t afford to stand around wishing you had a band aid.

So think about stashing stuff around your environment. Your mind will feel less cluttered, trust me.

When the Levee Breaks

Today I experienced the classic flood of cleanup. I decided to take a vacation day, split between two afternoons. And the pent-up Karmic Garbage of several months began to wash away.

One of the worst gumption traps I face is the dreaded product return. I have a universal remote control from Monster Cable. As a way to get out from under the dozen-remote-curse™, a universal remote is a true miracle. That is, until it stops working. Mine decided to stop working back in October 2007. A full four months later, I’ve finally mailed the thing back. And the sad part is, it only took about 10 real minutes worth of work. As a packrat, I had a cardboard box, packing peanuts, tape, and a marker – ready to go. I even had the original package and all the components laid out. What was it that kept me from just getting it done?

Looking back, having successfully overcome another troubling bit of Karmic Garbage, I realize is was the phone call. The customer service people at Monster Cable are among the best in the business. No questions asked. “Just mail everything back to this address, reference this return number, and we’ll send you a new one”. What? That’s it? No back and forth describing every possible symptom that somehow get’s twisted into something I did and not a faulty product? Not with Monster – they want the customer to have an amazing experience, start to finish.

Strangely enough, this is the second good phone service experience I’ve had in as many days. We’ve been in our new house for about 6 months, but haven’t bothered to set up the TV. So now that the writer’s strike is over, it’s time to get caught up with The Tube. Again, I’ve been living in dread. I knew the cable company was going to give me the hard sell, when all I wanted was a list of prices and a little time to compare them to satellite. No such thing. They just quoted me the prices, even spent a little time tearing down their own website – which was the reason I had to call in the first place. Based on the no-nonsense and fundamentally HUMAN treatment I received, I’ll be calling them back this afternoon.

Boxes, phone calls, paperwork – it’s amazing how many rocks can be removed from the dam of procrastination in just a few hours, freed up by a vacation day. I can’t wait for tomorrow afternoon.

Give Yourself No Choice

Here’s a little tidbit that recently bit me in the backside. I’m coordinating the 50th year reunion for a group with which I performed in college. So I had the alumni magazine publish my contact information, and invited “all comers”. Well, they’ve started calling.

The problem for me is that I’ve been putting off building the roster. Other things inevitably came up. Well, now I have no choice. The word is out, the hall is booked, and they’re banging on the door. Time to get up from the fire and start working!

Follow The Rules At Work

Do Not Touch

This is how we do things around here.
Sincerely, Workplace Culture

Behavior at work is driven by the law, market forces, the local environment, and preferences of the workers. Each driver comes with a rule book. Some rules you can’t avoid. Other rules you can control, absolutely. And of course there are rules for everything in between.

Rank-ordered from “jail time” to “nobody cares”, I group these rule books like this:

  • Regulation: required by law. Failure to comply means you will be deprived of money, liberty, or status by an outside force (typically government and the law).
  • Policy: required by the parent organization. Failure to comply means you will be deprived of employment, company-specific benefits, or status by an organizational force; applies to the entire company.
  • Procedure: required by the nature of the work and the work environment. Failure to comply means you face injury or loss to your person or your team; may not apply to the overall company.
  • Norm: not required, but everyone does it this way. Failure to comply may impact those performing the work, and result in ridicule or loss of status. Work unit preference.
  • Technique: not required, but individuals do it this way. Often more efficient. Must be supported by norms, procedures, policies, and regulations. Personal preference.

How do these drivers impact your work every day? A Federal regulation that directs your TPS reports? A company policy that controls billable hours? A procedure for signing out equipment? An office norm allowing casual attire on Friday? A technique for setting up your desk every day?

Each level is important for success. But rules can get miscategorized, too.

Has your office norm (“best practice”) become so useful, it should really be a procedure? Does that tedious company policy really apply to your team, or is it just a collection of antiquated procedures? What techniques can you discover from your local experts that could be codified in procedure or even policy?

Sometimes a rule is not really a rule! Take a look at what you do every day, and reassess the rules of the game. Every rule book is shaping your corporate culture. Take some time to make them right.


Copyright © 2016 Expeditionaire and Edward K. Beale
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(You may have different names for these rule book categories, so let me know what you call them in the comments.)

(My book West By Sea is 20% off in August with discount code. Enjoy!)