Get Organized – Getting Started

Confused with the flurry of paperwork and email that flows through your office daily?  Tired of living among piles of paperwork on your desk or on the floor?  Are your file drawers chock full of documents that you haven’t looked at in ages?  Where did you file that electronic file from 2 years ago that you need in 5 minutes?

You might need to get organized by managing the influx of physical and electronic documents.

It’s estimated that corporate executives waste 6 weeks per year searching for lost documents. (Fast Company Magazine, August 2004).  How can you make sure your are set up to increase your productivity simply by organizing your workspace?

1.  Tidy up the clutter. Your best weapon?  A file cabinet that meets your needs, doesn’t fight you, and is within arm’s reach of your desk.  File drawers should be no more than 75% full to make accessing files easily.  Use typed labels in a simple A-Z system.  Put 1 manila file folder per hanging file, too, so overstuffed files don’t obscure the labels on the files behind them.  Remember to clean out and/or archive old files once per year.  Label things clearly and logically enough so you can find a file within 1 minute.

Your computer files should be just as organized and de-cluttered.  At least once per year, archive or delete files from your desktop.  Re-arrange your file structure periodically as your focus changes and as you archive older files.  You should be able to find any computer file within 1 minute as well.

2.  Create a “tickler” file or system to remind you of tasks you need to do in the future.  This can be a physical tickler file, or you can create “tasks” and/or “recurrences” of appointments on your electronic calendar.  If creating a physical tickler file, create a file folder for each of the twelve months of the year (Jan through Dec.) and create 31 separate file folders (numbered 1-31) to account for up to 31 days/month.  If it’s September, put the September file in front, followed by the 31 daily folders.  (The rest of the monthly folders are now behind the 31 daily folders in order beginning with October.)

Place notes, invitations, fliers, etc. in the monthly folder during which you need to attend to them.  For the current month (in this case, September), put the items requiring attention in the particular daily folder that you’ll take care of them.  Each day, check the daily folder for the current month and take care of the items inside.  When you start a new month, move that month to the front, followed by folders 1-31, and sort the tickler items from the monthly folder and disperse them throughout the daily folders.

3.  Clear out your physical and email inboxes everyday by addressing everything in them.  For your email inbox, create storage folders for items that you want to save, that you will address later, or for messages you will forward to someone else to take care of.  Move your incoming mail to a folder if you’re not going to take care of it right away.  Set up email rules for certain incoming email, so it will automatically file itself.  For example, if you are CC’d on email frequently, set up a rule that sends anything you’re CC’d on directly to an email folder for these items.  Check email only twice per day — once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Your physical inbox should be managed the same way.  With both your email and physical inboxes, trash it, delegate, put it on hold, or get it done.  Remember to:

  • Process the top item first
  • Process one item at a time
  • Never put anything back

With these basics in place, you’ll be well on your way to staying in control of the steady flow of work that comes through your office.  Next time: managing larger projects with a Project List.

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