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Blog: Can We Have Some Order Here?
Incoming To-Do's

Talk to any Professional Organizer, and he or she will tell you that time management is about making room for the "want to's" as well as the "have to's". But when you are in a state of extreme overwhelm, you don't have enough energy left over for your higher priorities in life. Fortunately, it's easy to regain control over the daily grind with a good time management system -- so let's start by examining the way you deal with routine to-do's.

The Incoming Tide

Most of the to-do's in life come attached to a piece of paper -- registration forms to fill out, bills to pay, correspondence, invitations, school calendars, things to read and file. When you receive a document that requires some action on your part, what do you do first? Put it in a stack on your desk of miscellaneous "things to do" -- where it will sit for weeks or months, until you receive another piece of paper reminding you about that to-do that you forgot? If you just take a second to get organized when a new document first enters your life, you can almost guarantee that "to-do" will get "to-done" on time.

Start by sorting your to-do's according to the action required. Each day, take 5 minutes to go through the day's incoming mail, work/school papers, etc. Ask yourself what you need to do with each item to get it off of your plate. Create a set of "action files," based on your answers. Every day,  paper to-do's go into the appropriate file, waiting to be dealt with. Your action file should sit out in a file box or rack, placed in plain view, wherever you go through your mail. It will include categories like:

  • "to pay"
  • "to file"
  • "to contact"
  • "to buy"
  • "to read"
  • "to enter in computer"
  • "to put on calendar"
  • "to reconcile"
  • "to give to _________"

You can also put handwritten notes into your folders (ex: a list of people to call in the "to contact" file) if an action item doesn't come with a corresponding piece of paper. Now each document has a set place to live until you tackle it, and you can easily see exactly what types of to-do's are on your plate.

Getting It All Done

How do you make sure that these action items actually get acted on? Don't wait until you have time. You might say, "I'll get to it when I have time" -- but you'll never have time! It's amazing how your schedule seems to fill up with a million other activities, how you have space for everything except the tasks you don't like doing in the first place. Administrative work like "to-do's" and filing and bill-paying aren't fun, but they are necessary for keeping your life running smoothly, for keeping you organized. If you want to get them done, you must make time.

Schedule a regular weekly appointment with yourself , maybe an hour or two, once or twice a week -- and block off that slot for "admin time". During admin time, your goal is to go through each folder in order and try to complete every item inside. If you can't complete that item for some reason, put it back in the folder and tackle it during your next admin period. And if you finish one step (say, paying a bill), but then realize that you have another step to take with that paper (perhaps calling to correct a billing error), move it to the appropriate folder for that next step.

You will, occasionally, run into to-do's that have very strict deadlines -- bills to pay, registering for a conference, sending in a permission slip for your kid's field trip, disputing a charge on your credit card, etc. As you sort through incoming paperwork, note any item that has a specific due date (especially if it is going to arrive before your next admin day), and record it in your calendar -- along with a note of the folder in which that document is stored. These tasks are to be taken care of as part of your routine that day -- treat them as a priority and get them done first thing in the morning, before you get busy or distracted.

If you follow this system, you will have no reason to miss a deadline or pay a bill late -- and you don't have to continually worry, "When will I get it all done", because you know that any to-do's will be taken care of during your next regular admin period.

posted on: 4/8/2010 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips

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Can We Have Some Order Here?

by Ramona Creel

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About Ramona:

I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!

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