Here’s how to work through your entire organization system to keep it up-to-date.
1. Each day, take time to prioritize what you need to do that day. Spend some time at the beginning of the day (or at the end of the day for tomorrow), looking at what has come up on your calendar or Next Actions list to determine what absolutely needs to be done. Schedule time on your calendar to do things that will take you 30 minutes or more. This will help you plan what you can get done and when.
In general, your calendar and your Next Actions list will drive what needs to be done on any given day. Your priorities will most likely change during the day, but if you plan it out you know what to shoot for, and you’ll have a better chance of getting the main things done.
Don’t forget to check your tickler file if you’re keeping that separate from your calendar.
2. As items enter your system through your email, your physical inbox, Next Actions list or another capture device, determine what the item is and whether something must be done with it. If nothing needs to be done with the item, then:
- Trash it. Junk mail comes to mind for this category along with notices of events you don’t have an interest in attending, or email that you were only CC’d on and don’t have an interest in;
- File it away for reference in your topical file in case you ever need it. Maybe someone sent you an article on “employee performance”. You don’t need it for anything now, but maybe you will in the future; or
- Let it simmer. You’re at dinner with friends who describe their latest trip to Antarctica. Now you think you might want to go someday. Put it on a Someday/Maybe list where it will stay until you decide to go or until you decide you’re no longer interested.
If something does need to be done with the item, then:
- Do it. If you’re the person who needs to do it, and it will take you 2 minutes or less to do it, do it as soon as it comes up in your email or physical inbox;
- Delegate it. If the item is better handled by someone else, delegate it to him/her. For example, if you have an administrative assistant, s/he can make those mailing labels for the alumni gathering. You don’t have to. When you delegate something, make sure you’re clear with who will do it and when it needs to be done. Make note on a Waiting On list, so you can follow up if needed when you review that list; or
- Defer it. If you’re the person who must take action with the item, and it will take longer than 2 minutes to do it, then defer it by putting it on your calendar for the date and/or time that you need to do it. Maybe it goes on your Agenda for a particular person or meeting, or maybe it should go in your tickler file for a later date.
3. Review your lists at least once a week. Check on your . . .
- Waiting On list for things you’ve delegated to someone else. Do you need to follow up to find out how things are going?
- Next Actions list for the next steps to take on various projects. Is there something you can do in the coming week(s) to move a project forward?
- Someday/Maybe list to see if you’re ready to do an item from this list . . . or maybe you’ve decided to cross things off this list because you’re no longer interested.
- Agendas to make sure you are keeping track of items for meeting agendas or to bring up the next time you see a particular person.
Ultimately, you should have the least number of lists to keep you organized. The goal is not to have a complex system but to have the simplest system that works for you. If you find yourself not working your organization system from time to time, don’t worry. It’s easy to get back into it. And you know that you feel better and more in control of your work when you keep your system updated. For more tips on self-organization, I recommend the book, Getting Things Done by David Allen.