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Blog: Can We Have Some Order Here?
Setting Up Action Files

Some people say that you should only touch a piece of paper once -- I say, impossible! It might take several steps to complete a task, you may need to refer back to that document again and again, and that's okay. But the real trick is keeping track of everything throughout the process. You need a simple and effective paper-flow system that helps prevent misplaced items and lets you get everything done in a timely fashion. Fortunately, I have one to offer!

Organizing For Forward Momentum

I often feel that the number one challenge people face with paper is not the quantity (although there is way too much of it about) -- it's lack of motion. When you've got a good system for processing, a big pile of to-do's is a piece of cake. But when any amount of paper lands on your desk and just sits there, it's going to create problems. The goal is forward momentum -- that's why they call it "work flow," rather than "work stop!" If you want to keep paper moving through your system (instead of stagnating and clogging up your in-box), you need to "verb" it -- that means sorting according to the action required. Start with the nearest pile, ask yourself what you need to do with each item, then create a folder for each answer. You'll probably come up with categories like:

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

Set these folders up in a file box or rack, placed in plain view. The goal is to break that pile down into just a few action categories -- and to give new paper a place to live until you have a chance to tackle it. Each day, take just a minute to go through the incoming to-do's and file accordingly.  Of course, you may have multiple steps to take with each item (like a credit card statement with an error on it -- where you need to make a phone call, then pay the bill, then file it.) Don't make it more complicated than it needs to be. Just ask yourself, "What is the NEXT step I need to take to clear this item up?" You start by putting it in "to contact," and you may only have time for that one step today. Not to worry -- simply move it to "to pay" and it will be waiting for you on your next round of to-do's (plus, you won't forget where you were in processing that document.)

Rethinking The Way You Do Things

So how do you make sure that everything you put into a file comes back out again, and gets done on time? Don't wait until you have time. 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, but then realize that you have another step to take with that paper, make a note or attach a sticky so there's no confusion later on.

Why would you worry about working through one folder before moving to the next? You will accomplish more in less time when you complete each activity in sequence (paying all of your bills at once, then making all of your calls, then doing all of your filing) -- as opposed to bopping back and forth between different tasks. Take a "mass production" tip from Henry Ford -- your work will get done faster and easier if you focus on one category at a time. Plus, completing a folder allows that weight to lift from your shoulders -- you know that all the bills are paid or all the calls are made, and you can forget about those to-do's until your next admin period. If you follow this system, you will never accumulate more than a week's worth of paper at any time, you have no reason to miss a deadline or get hit with a late fee -- 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. Is that genius, or what? Wink

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posted on: 5/27/2010 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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