Here’s a thought experiment with two scenarios: imagine you set out to pay any open bills that have arrived in the last couple of days.
The concept to keep in mind here is the following one:
Step 1: when papers arrive, it’s a simple matter of sorting into a couple of basic categories at the point of entry (i.e. your entrance hall!):
Step 2: Check papers on your desk and sort into these categories (ideally, each of these three categories has a designated tray on your desk):
If you follow those simple steps – and they take no more than a couple of minutes each morning, if that – you not only have prepared things to be done much more efficiently, but you have gotten rid of the main reason for losing time with paperwork: you do not have to review every single piece of paper each time you start something. Why? Because anything you only keep for reference is in the FILING tray (and hopefully will be filed away properly on a regular basis) and out of your sight, but you have ensured that future action is taken on pending matters by means of a reminder (no need to check constantly), and only the matters you have to address now are left in the one pile you need to worry about: the TO DO tray. In terms of the above scenario: you’ll be able to find your bills very quickly now, and deal with them in no time.
Incoming paperwork, electronic version
This does not take care of all of your incoming paperwork, though: don’t forget that a lot of your correspondence these days is electronic! Emails are only the top of the iceberg, with all kinds of social media messages flooding our brains with bits of data, but for the sake of giving you an idea what to do with those, let’s look at your inbox and ways to deal with all those messages. You’ll realise quickly that there are lots of similarities to dealing with paper mail.
Here’s how most people deal with incoming emails: they open their mail program, (are shocked by the sheer number of emails in their inbox,) skim through all the emails, reading some of them completely, sometimes marking them using tags or making them ‘unread’ again, and then half deciding which ones are important and need addressing straight away. And then they get on with it and deal with the ones that come to mind as important first. During the time it takes to reply to that first email they choose, more emails come in and are being read (either interrupting the reply to that first one, or right after sending that reply).
Can you feel the pressure mounting? This way of dealing with emails keeps you tethered to the mail program, there is constant distraction and disruption, and after dealing with that first email, another round of “let’s read all of them and decide which one is the most urgent one” and getting on with that one. Over time, emails will accumulate in the inbox and make dealing with them ever more time-consuming.
If you think about it, this is exactly the same approach that leads to the one paper pile on the desk that contains everything. Rather than reading one email at a time, and taking a decision about it there and then, a lot of time is spent reading the same stuff over and over again. I propose a system that closely mirrors the paper version of incoming correspondence:
Open the inbox and read one email.
Take the action that corresponds to your decision about this email after reading it:
This simple system will lead to a completely different situation: the inbox only ever contains two types of items: items to be dealt with and unread emails (that need to go through the short decision process outlined above). Isn’t this a much more desirable way of working with your emails?
Next week: Remove distractions from your work space
Ask the ClutterMeister
Some pertinent ideas from the 'old office dog' who has seen it all, to help clear away the mess in your office.
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My name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients organise and declutter their work spaces.