Important Sh*t

In my line of work, trust is essential. Every time I start to speak with somebody about his/her files or documents, s/he usually gets defensive. After working at my first contract (back in 2008!) for a couple of months, I built trust with the client. One day during a casual chat, the client offered to show me her “important sh*t” drawer. I was intrigued.

We walked over to her desk. In one swift motion she lifted up her desktop calendar exposing the dark underside. What lurked beneath was a jumbled mass of papers – small scraps, large sheets and colored bits. She was an incredibly organized person so I was a bit surprised to see the haphazard array hidden from sight. Once she started to explain what she used it for, it made a lot of sense.

The space beneath her desktop calendar (and I mean a literal desktop calendar, the large, paper kind that used to lay across the desk) was used for urgent and/or critical items. It was a quick access space for things that she needed to deal with immediately, or be able to find instantly.

What really sold me on her system was how it aggregated things based on need. Typically people like to categorize, or organize, things based on subject, topic, or other similar characteristics, “like with like.” By contrast, the “important sh*t” space was organized based on need, to either do something urgently or to retrieve it quickly.

Even now when I think about this system, it still makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, I use and create similar systems. For example, most software applications have a space readily available to showcase “recently” used documents or files. Whatever you are actively working on is conveniently accessed with one click. This saves you time from having to search for the document, or to drill down several folder levels to open it.

When I reorganized my bathroom, I designated one box for “quick access – use first” items that I use daily, or will expire soon. Though to an outsider, it may look like a box of random, mismatched items.

In essence, Important Sh*t drawers (or folders) should be used for dynamic content. By dynamic I mean the content should be changing as you deal with your urgent items and move on. If that’s not what it is, then it’s just another junk drawer.

Junk Drawer

Everyone has a drawer like this. Or maybe two or three.

Junk Drawer


Random stuff that accumulates organically over time. The way it seems to creep into that one empty drawer, or hard to reach cupboard, or even a space that’s really convenient and in a prime location. What it really represents is a haphazard array of stuff that you want to keep, but you don’t know what to do with. And seemingly none of the items in the drawer are related to each other. Mostly random one-off items, or things with short-term value. And then they just start to build up.

I remember watching a tiny home segment about a man who lived in 70 sq. feet of space. His microwave was the kitchen and he shared a bathroom. Even so, he had two junk drawers.

Here are some of the weird items I’ve found in junk drawers:

  • a paper clip (yes, just one lonely paper clip)
  • thumb tacks
  • pens (some that write and some that don’t)
  • book marks
  • change (especially pennies!)
  • business cards
  • old receipts
  • cheap, plastic toys and rubber animals
  • bits of string or yarn
  • cool, nifty gadgets
  • something broken that is on the to-do list for repairs

If you’re like me, you feel bad throwing these things away because each item has some use. But then again, it’s not always worth the effort to put it away. So it gets stashed in the junk drawer, to be pulled out at just the right moment, which almost never happens. Usually as I begin the tedious work of cleaning out a junk drawer, or at least “freshening” it up, I’m always holding strange things up and asking myself why I ever bothered to keep this…And yet somehow this exercise doesn’t seem to deter the strange impulse and force to create, and re-create, a junk drawer in every place I’ve ever lived.

I have a tendency to be messy, but prefer to have my stuff organized. Over the years I’ve developed some strategies to keep things manageable, even those pesky, ubiquitous junk drawers.

  1. Have less stuff to make a mess with. I consider myself “low maintenance” rather than a minimalist. My place can usually be tidied up within an hour.
  2. Go through “junk” drawers at least once a year.
  3. Have designated “use first” areas.

More about the last point in next week’s posting, “Important Sh*t.”


Last Wednesday I signed up for my first paddle of the season with the Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre. I ambitiously selected a mid-week sunrise paddle. As I struggled to get out of bed at 5am I briefly considered rolling over for an extended snooze, but ultimately got ready and biked down to the launch.

The moment my kayak glided into the water, my face spontaneously erupted into a giant, toothy smile. Free! Floating! I remembered how much I missed being on the water. The fresh(ish) air. 

My body immediately relaxed succumbing to the gentle swaying motion of the boat in the water. The effect was hypnotic. I dipped my paddle into the water and propelled myself forward, leaving everything else behind on land. This included the day’s to-do list, the unwashed dishes in the sink, and the myriad of other pressing things on the agenda. For the next 90 minutes my only task was to paddle and enjoy the scenery. A small respite from technology, email, screens, and obligations.

I have always loved water sports and boating. I’m not sure what it is about kayaking, but I feel a huge sense of relief the minute I’m bobbing around in the water. Listening to the susurration of the waves gently lapping against the edge of my boat has a calming effect, at least when it’s not super windy.

What I love about kayaking, more than other types of boating, is that I’m so close to the water, literally attached to the boat. I feel like a strange aquatic centaur, half-human and half-boat, powering myself through a new element. Seamlessly gliding along without a care in the world.

The kayak provides a unique combination of sensations: floating, security, strength, and adventure. As a lap swimmer for over 20 years I’m definitely comfortable in the water. The kayak, however, offers me an opportunity to be at ease on the water.

The scenic view of the Toronto skyline returning from a sunset paddle.

As I blogged about earlier this year (click here), kayaking is also a great way to get close to nature and observe it, without being obtrusive. In 2016, on the 4-day kayaking trip I took with my family, we had the good fortune to see whales, orcas, eagles, seals, sea lions, and stunning scenery.

Sea lions hanging out on a rock.

Regardless of the scenery and cool animals, the thrill of being on the water in such an intimate way already feels like a treat.

A duck found refuge on a bench during a summer of flooding in 2017.

Just the Highlights

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the FIFA games over the last month. This time I printed out a grid to keep track of the teams. After each round my partner and I would reassess our predictions as one team after another was eliminated.

Since my partner and I were working when most of the games were on, we would watch the highlights in the evenings. Usually after the highlights one of the games would be replayed in its entirety. However, I discovered watching a game after having seen the highlights wasn’t that entertaining. Especially since I knew the exact minute that the “highlight” happened. It removed the anticipation and left no surprises.

When you just watch the highlights, you miss out on the process of how the goal(s) were scored. What you don’t get to see are all the near misses, which lend extra weight and anticipation to the excitement of the actual scoring. This momentum builds up the suspense when watching it live. When I watch a game live I don’t know what’s going to happen when. I’m cheering for my team when they get the ball and groaning loudly when they miss a chance at scoring. But all of that effort heightens the impact of seeing the team score.

For me it’s as much about seeing the progression of the win, as the actual outcome. After seeing the highlights, it didn’t feel as exciting to watch. The momentum is not the same. You miss the lead up to the big GOOOOOAAAAAL. You don’t get to see how the team strategized and changed tactics. You don’t get to see how long the ball was in motion before landing in the net. 

I can enjoy watching a game, if I know the score, but not how and when the goals were scored. This even applies for me when watching penalty shootouts. I like to watch the whole shootout, even if I already know who won, but not which shootouts were missed or blocked. It’s still dramatic and gripping to see the kicks and the miraculous saves by the goalies. 

In defense of highlights, I should say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching replays of great moments from some of the top players in the world. I was okay with this because I’ll never watch the full games anyway.

Vive France!

Information Filtering

With so much information available on the internet, it would be onerous to find anything if we didn’t have a little help from filtering and customization.

Every time you search for something, everything is essentially available. Think of how many results Google returns in a fraction of a second. However, what appears at the top has likely been filtered by the search engine to guess at what you will find most interesting. The filtering is based on any number of factors including, but not limited to: previous searches, tracking websites and advertisements you click, IP addresses, keywords found in your electronic communications (e.g., email), operating system (Apple vs. Android vs. Windows) and location, to name a few. It’s designed to filter items to the front that you will like the best.

The danger with too much filtering, and customization, is that you may never be exposed to contrarian points of view. You may never discover new things that you might find interesting. I’m hooked on reading news with my NYTimes app. Although I sometimes wonder if I’m only offered headlines of stories that the app guesses I will be interested in based on behind-the-scene algorithms and tracking. 

One of the things I used to enjoy about paper newspapers was browsing through the sections and reading whatever grabbed my attention. In my younger days I would have immediately tossed aside the Sports and Business sections unless a headline enticed me. Consequently, I’ve developed a real interest in some aspects of sports and business.

The old school version of filtering can still be experienced in a library, except a library is a “filter out” instead of a “filter it front.” Every item in a library has been vetted and assessed by a professional for inclusion in the collection. What you see is what’s available. Libraries have always been, and still remain, a place to share and exchange ideas, or to be challenged by new ones. In library school I learned that in a good library everybody should be offended by at least one thing in the collection. This demonstrates that the library offers a wide range of materials to suite a diverse range of needs.

It’s healthy to be informed of different perspectives and try to understand them. This helps us to develop as people and learn how to be compassionate towards one another.

Digital Bookmakers

I recently started the process for getting an e-version of my new book, The Art of Making Space: Choosing Quality Over Quantity. I’m self-published and the entire process has been peppered with a lot of lessons learned. The biggest one was probably that the e-version is a lot more complicated than it seems.

Initially I thought the e-version would be as easy as uploading the digital file for my book. Nope. It’s actually more complex than that. When I started researching it, I discovered that the e-version has to be carefully coded on the backend to make it work on the various devices and operating systems available. An ebook won’t sell well if it can only be read on one type of device or e-reader application. It has to be readable on everything, comparable to the ease with which anyone can pick up a paper book and start reading it.

The e-version must be flexible and adaptable to change sizes. People often like to zoom in/out on images and tables. Or increase the text size. Paper books don’t do this.

Since my coding skills are rudimentary, at best, I hired a company to do the heavy lifting. While filling out the paperwork, I noted that the owner referred to her staff as “bookmakers.” Bookmakers? I remember thinking. Is that what they were? After some thought I realized that yes, they are digital bookmakers. The print version looks amazing, but I’ve already had to accept there will be some differences with the e-version. And yes, I need a professional digital bookmaker to handle the adjustments and formatting.

One surprising thing I learned is that digital books don’t really have back covers. When looking at paper books, I think most people look at the cover first (yes, we do judge books by their covers!), then flip it over to read the back. If it’s hardcover, people may also read the inside flaps. But with ebooks, there is no way to “flip” it. Therefore the promotional bits must be delivered in other ways, such as embedded in the book as a description, or on a page near the beginning.

Yup, more lessons learned. Despite all the setbacks, I’m thrilled that the digital bookmaking process is a fairly short one, about two weeks.

E-version coming soon to your favorite device!