Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Let's get together, baby!

I'm all in favor of sipping tea alone and contemplating my navel.  However, tea also lends itself beautifully to a communal experience.  All over the world, people get together routinely over tea.  

Though tea gatherings do occur worldwide, we Americans tend to associate them with England.  We think of a sophisticated "high tea" in a British parlor with tiny crustless sandwiches and clotted cream (what is that, anyway?).  In actuality, "high tea" was the heavy evening meal eaten by working class families at the end of the day.   A few sources state that tea was deliberately brought into this evening meal in order to steer workers away from alcohol -- certainly an optimistic diversionary tactic.  

Actually, the word "high" referred to the height of the dinner table rather than the sophistication of the gathering or the company.  Tables in parlors and sitting rooms were, by contrast, lower to the ground.  So, "low tea" now often called "afternoon tea," is the true parlor gathering of guests for gentle conversation -- not to mention tea, snacks, sweets and ostensibly, that clotted cream.

Of course, the most ritualized tea gathering is usually thought to be the Japanese tea ceremony.  This ceremony, based on  Taoism and influenced by Zen Buddhism, is performed by an expert practitioner and served to a small group of guests.  The practitioner is extensively trained in tea preparation and a wide variety of ceremonial procedures related to tea, calligraphy, flower arranging, kimono wrapping and more.  Interestingly, not only the practitioner, but also the guests are expected to have mastery of the tea ceremony, down to the last gesture, phrase and rule of deportment.

Well, to each her own, I say.  I myself favor tea gatherings as informal breaks in our increasingly rushed daily routines.  (Masala chai & samosas this afternoon, anyone?)

This approach seems to be catching on here in the U.S., as evidenced by the recent proliferation of tea salons and tea houses, particularly on the coasts and in larger cities.  Tea salon owners often say that they expect their clientele to settle in and spend the afternoon talking.  I love this trend!  As we become even busier and every minute seems to be spoken for, we must make the conscious effort to pause and come together, to connect and share our lives.  What better way than over tea?  

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Get organized, baby!

Welcome to my office! Every important paper on my desk has its own designated place! All of my documents are neatly labeled in alphabetized files! My to-do list is not only prioritized, but also color-coded! You believe me, don’t you?

No? Well, you’re as smart as you look, baby.

Recently I attended a networking meeting and had the opportunity to hear Chris Frazier, a professional organizer and lawyer. Her company Focus Forward specializes in assisting small businesses. Chris impressed me because she approaches organization as a mindset, not just as a calendar/paper collection system. Also, her advice always takes into consideration the realities of the current working world, with its proliferating paperwork and relentless emails and text messages.

After listening to Chris, I realized that I needed to change the way I work. Without such changes, the most elaborate set of tiered trays or color-coded labels from the office supply store wasn’t going to help me increase my effectiveness.

My favorite of Chris’s suggestions: “Resist the urge to check email or voicemail.” Instead, she recommends setting a few designated times each day for such checking. This advice alone now saves hours of my time. A former email addict, I spent all day reading and responding to email. Once I recognized the artificial urgency that incoming emails evoke and the inefficiency of constantly stopping and starting in the middle of work, I was better able to prioritize my time and complete my tasks.

Another favorite of mine: “Create an effective filing system, and then use it every day!” She recommends setting aside 10-30 minutes at the end of each work day for paper management. Now, instead of weeping over my enormous stacks of paper, I feel that my paper is under control. According to Chris, this habit has the added advantage of providing closure at the end of the day and preparation for the next.

I asked Chris to allow me to share with you some of her other excellent recommendations:

1. Make a to-do list the evening before each new work day and actually schedule the block of time in which you will do each task. Schedule the most important tasks first.

2. Complete similar types of work at the same time, for example, returning calls, writing, and scheduling meetings. This grouping of activities will better focus your energy.

3. Delegate! Stop thinking you have to do everything yourself.

4. Divide your office into activity zones. Have a main work zone, but also a reference zone, creative zone, and calling zone.

5. Get all that stuff off your desk! Use your desk surface for working, not storage. Instead, creatively use all the areas around your desk for storage -- on walls, behind doors, etc.

6. Consider hiring a professional organizer to help you set up an effective system for you. The National Association of Professional Organizers has a list of organizers in your area.

Visit Chris Frazier’s website at www.focusforward.biz.

Visit our online store at www.ChaiBabyUSA.com.

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