Now that you’ve removed the clutter from your desktop and drawers, you’re ready to establish a new order.
Organize the present first: Don’t worry about the future or the past until you’ve organized everything else.
Set up your working files in your desk drawer(s) or within arm’s length. Organize them alphabetically or chronologically, whichever makes more sense for you.
Limit the categories by keeping them broad: Set up no more than seven to ten; if you have more, it will take longer to find a file. I’d suggest files for “fingertip info” (phone lists, addresses, and information you use frequently), current projects (a file for each project), routine tasks, clients or prospects, and problems or issues to be researched.
Don’t put too many papers in a file or it will take longer to find what you want. Split big files into smaller files for greater convenience. Get honest about what you really need and what you should toss.
As you name each file, think about how you would try to find it later. Make your file names interesting, but logical. Keep them short—not more than three words.
Write them in large letters with a bold, fine-tip marking pen to make the files easy to find.
Use colored file folders to distinguish among your categories so you can find files faster.
Now you are ready to put the piles away that you originally put on the floor when you started. Break your piles into small piles because you are going to file one small pile a day, at the end of the day, until you get caught up. That way you won’t procrastinate starting.
Handle paper only once: Once you touch a file or piece of paper in one of your stacks, it can’t go back where it came from. It must go in one of the five following places:
- The garbage
- The future
- The past
- The present
- Outbound (sign off on it, or delegate it to someone else)
That file or piece of paper can’t be placed back on your desk. (Many times, that’s why our piles don’t get smaller. The paper just goes back into a new pile on our desk.) These five options eliminate questions and the need for new piles.
Stop using post-its: Stop using sticky notes for todo items. They only create clutter and increase the amount of time it takes to find your notes. Take all your post-its, write them on your Master List, and throw them away.
Finally, put the future and the past into the reference file. This is a file cabinet that should be located in a corner of your office or just outside.
File a little every day: If you do, the situation won’t get out of hand again. Toss what you don’t need. Every Friday, go through your files and get rid of any duplicates or ones you no longer need.
Clean your desk every day: Put your files away. You’ll feel more in control—both as you leave and when you arrive. And you won’t be worrying about leaving sensitive papers exposed—or any files vulnerable to damage if the sprinklers go off while you’re away.
“Order is most useful in the management of everything . . . Its maxim is: A place for everything, and everything in its place.”