Your desktop and frankly any other horizontal surface are the hardest places to keep clear. Bills to pay, to-do lists, event invites, magazines you have been meaning to read, orders you need to fill, and the list goes on and on.
Often, we keep things “out” – either spread around or stacked – on our desk and other surfaces because we don't want to forget to do something that we have deemed important or don't want to forget.
Today I'll share 3 tricks that have worked for me and my clients.
Paper Pile Elimination Trick 1 – Ask “What is the Next Action?”
Rather than thinking of your papers in terms of a topic or a list of things that you need to do, think in terms of “next action.” You may have many things that ultimately need to happen with a particular piece of paper, but by only thinking of the next action, you can eliminate overwhelm and process your paper faster. (If there is no action necessary, skip to trick #3)
Once you have determined the next action, either write it directly on the paper, or attach a sticky note to the page with the next action you need to take. If you know the information, also write down how and when you will best perform that action. By writing down the action you need to take, you will save yourself loads of time later when you pick up the paper again! Why rethink about an action over and over when you can decide once and move on?
Example: I was working with a client the other day and we were going through his paper work. He picked up a piece of paper that contained a name and phone number of a contact. He told me that his next action was to make a phone call to that person for a project they were working on together. I then asked him if he had everything he needed to make the call successful. No. He didn't. He had to do some quick research first. So, the next action was not the phone call, it was the research.
Paper Pile Elimination Trick 2 – Create an Action System
Once you know the next action needed, sort / organize by VERB.
When you have action items, it is OK to mix various project or topics as long as they are organized by the type of action you need to take.
Create an Action System! Action Systems come in a number of different forms. One way is to label file folders with each Verb and store your papers in those file folders on your desk in a vertical file holder (the graduated kind where you can see all of the file tabs is best) or you could use the Pendaflex PileSmart Organizer. This way, the items are stored in an orderly fashion until you make time to take action. You might have something like this:
The Action System is great to keep things looking neat, but you must actually open the folders and take action to get the full benefit! By taking action by verb or type of action, you will eliminate multi-tasking, save time and increase concentration. If possible, it is best to empty each folder in one sitting. Once you have completed the action, ask “What is the next action?” and file accordingly.
Example: The paper my client had identified with the contact and phone number originally went into a “Research” folder. Once he had completed the research, he added that information to the paper and moved the page from “Research” to the “Call” folder. When the call was complete, he would either toss the paper, or file it into permanent reference or assign it a new action based on the results of the call.
Paper Pile Elimination Trick 3 – Create a Quick Reference
Sometimes we keep papers on our desk because there is information that we want easily accessible but there really isn't an action needed. Start by making sure that the information really is needed for quick reference. If you don't need the information on at least a weekly basis, file it away in your permanent reference files.
The fastest way to create a quick reference system is to get a 1 – 1 1/2 inch binder and a numbered tab system. Either 3-hole punch each page or put them in sheet protectors. Each topic gets its own number. At the front of the binder, have an index to tell you what each number represents. You might have something like this:
1 — Emergency Contacts
2 — Service Providers
3 — Passwords
4 — Product Codes
and so on.
Decide, Process & Build Your Business!
Once you have your Action System and Quick Reference system in place, it is a matter of consistently asking yourself “what is the next action” and then processing the paper. These small decisions will help you keep the paper piles under control and eliminate avalanche concerns. Before you know it, you will be getting things done rather than pushing papers around your desk!
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