Best Laid Plans Habits life

Piles/Inputs and How We Think About Them

September 9, 2022

I really liked yesterday’s Zen Habits post: The Urgency of Piles

In it, Leo Babauta encourages us to think about plies of accumulated tasks (what I sometimes like to refer to as “inputs”) in a more neutral or even positive light.

The post also made me think about Oliver Burkeman‘s work, because in 4000 weeks one of the main takeaways was that you will literally never get ‘everything’ done, so why spend much time fretting over it?

The truth is that no matter what your organization system looks like, these piles are inevitable. The inputs can be temporarily blocked (and I think it is healthy to put some effort towards controlling one’s inputs as to not be bombarded with random things all the time!), but even without the interruptions we know that the piles are there, quietly accumulating in the background while we try to relax or focus on other things.

The contents of said piles are not always trivial. Sometimes my work piles include questions from patients who are really worried about something, or prescription renewal requests. Some things can’t necessarily just can’t (or shouldn’t) be peacefully accepted as they pile up.

But at the same time, I think Leo has a point. We (I?) have to stop thinking of these piles as negative or something wrong that needs fixing. If one pile accumulates because another aspect of life is being addressed, that’s not shameful. That’s just life.

I do feel like having general routines for when to empty my piles is helpful to me, as long as the routines are realistic and based on when there is truly time to address what is in each pile. Examples for me are:

  • Generally clearing my EPIC inbox (or getting it as close as possible to zero) every day I am seeing patients
  • Clearing out my work email inbox every Friday
  • Emptying my gmail every Sunday
  • Going through physical mail regularly and making sure anything ‘important’ is addressed by end of day Sunday

But these routines do have to be fluid and there has to be an air of gentleness and acceptance. If I have a sick child, I will likely get behind on some of this pile emptying. Luckily, there will be future Fridays/Sundays in which to clear the decks, and most likely anything urgent will float to the top (a phone call) and be addressed in some fashion.

Anyway, I enjoyed his post and will try to think of my piles with a bit more flexibility, gratitude, and curiosity in the future.

In other news, I’m in Colorado (for a very short time)!!! Tonight is the Brandi concert and today we are having lunch with one of my childhood best friends (we met in 2nd grade!) and her husband — I believe set them up on their first date in 10th grade or so.

We went here for dinner last night (we are staying out by Red Rocks) and it was awesome. Helpfully will have some dramatic mountain pix to share tomorrow!

I did capture a rainbow (I was not driving!)


  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns September 9, 2022 at 10:11 am

    Have the best time at Brandi!!!!!! And how fun to reconnect with an old friend on this trip!

  • Reply Ashley September 9, 2022 at 10:45 am

    Ahhh! Enjoy the Red Rocks experience and the mountain views.

  • Reply Beth September 9, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    Ah enjoy Colorado! Glad the weather cooled off for your visit. Stay hydrated! 🙂

  • Reply Helena Murphy September 9, 2022 at 6:02 pm

    How timely it was to find this post on The Piles! As I found myself with severe laryngitis this week and having to find substitutes for my meetings (a silent interpreter isn’t very helpful…), I decided to go through my piles. And every time I do a bigger catch-up /tackling session I try to think of a better system to help my future-self process the piles more efficiently. I stared at the multiple sub-piles I categorized my master pile of physical papers into and thought about how those papers could be tossed into sub-piles in the first place. It’s feasible. With a few clicks I can find a 6 tray contraption online. But the truth is, there are moments – many many moments – in day-to-day life when placing that paper in the correct sub-pile may be asking too much. On those days, I want to not feel like a lesser human for just tossing said paper on the unmarked grave pile. The post you linked mentioned how truly urgent tasks “floating to the top”. They do seem to do that, which is so reassuring! When I’m sick I generally manage to spot the true priorities and not stress so much about the rest. Perhaps because being truly sick exempts me from guilt/shame. I hope to learn one day to have a similar approach when I’m not sick. That would be, erm, far healthier!

    Enjoy Colorado!
    Your piles will gracefully await your return 🙂

  • Reply Omdg September 10, 2022 at 7:43 am

    I don’t have piles, I have mountains, but what you say is still true. I woke up freaking out about a month ago because I went through all the stuff that needs to be completed by the end of the year is completely insurmountable. But that’s just it: it will be literally impossible to get it all done, so it’s not worth stressing over. And THEN my mentors moved my grant deadline up by a month and I had to accept that very little else will get done in the next month. And no, I am not pulling (non-call) all-nighters or stopping exercise this time because this is a marathon, not a sprint.

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