Piling: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Written by Martha on February 12th, 2013

Let’s face it, we all make piles. We get in a hurry and say we will take care of this or that “tomorrow”, as if secret admirers of Scarlet O’Hara’s delusional behavior.

The UGLY: You know you are in trouble when the piles start attacking you when you walk by. Books tumble onto your ankles. The breeze of your passing makes papers flutter and fall onto the walkway that you have so carefully maintained. You have to walk sideways or climb over your piles to get to the farthest corner of the room.





This is the ugly face of piling. The piles become mountains. You feel tired even looking at them, much less dealing with the delayed decisions
they represent. 
The GOOD: Believe it or not, there is a good side to piling. Often a pile starts as a specific category of things. Some examples are:
  • Bills to pay
  • Clothes to go to the dry cleaner
  • CD’s you love most right now
  • Birthday cards for this month
  • Supporting papers for taxes or home refinance
Creating piles for specific actions is a very good thing. The piles can be effective as a visual prod to action.



The BAD: The problem comes when the action attached to that pile is not completed (pay the bills, take clothes to dry cleaner, re-sleeve CD’s when new favorites emerge, etc.) and the pile is covered with the next layer of To Do’s. Over time, The BAD turns UGLY.
How can you and I use our tendency to pile constructively? Here are a few tips.


  1. Physically label the pile with a sticky note or 3×5 card on top with the category of thing and the action you want to take, and a deadline for getting it done.*
  2. *Give yourself a deadline of 1 week or less if possible. The longer you delay taking action, the less chance this task will be treated like a priority.
  3. Do not place anything on top that is unrelated to this category.
  4. For paper, vertical piles are best. Use colorful file folders labeled with action words: “PAY UP BEFORE THEY TURN THE LIGHTS OFF” or “TAKE THAT, STINKING IRS MONEYGRUBBERS!” in an inclined sorter. You will see at a glance what to work on next.
  5. If the pile is still there after the deadline,ask yourself if you really care. What’s the worst that will happen if you don’t get it done? Will you go to jail? Do you care enough to get the clothes dry cleaned, send the birthday cards, refinance? If not, chuck the pile. Donate usable items to someone who cares.
Note to SELF: Don’t try to do or be everything to everybody. Choose the best and let go of the rest.


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