Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tackling To-Dos: Eliminating Paper Piles

If you're anything like me, you don't have time to deal with every piece of paper that comes through the door every day.  If you're also a visual person that needs things in plain sight to remember them, this results in a pile-up of "to-do" items.  Literally, piles.

Not only is a pile of papers unattractive, but they're also a pretty inefficient way to keep track of things.  Need a recent receipt to return something you purchased?  I would end up on a quest to sift through the backlog, and might ultimately find it between an invitation to an upcoming event and an electric bill.

Since my former desk area was on the kitchen table, these piles were even more of a nuisance.  We were constantly having to move them when we needed to eat dinner.  It just wasn't working!

I humbly give you the insanity that existed just before I remedied the problem:

So, inspired by an idea in the book by Regina Leeds I am reading, I set out to make myself a file system for my to-dos.  In the book, she recommends adding a section at the front of your filing cabinet to contain them.  Since I moved the filing cabinet into the closet as part of the office revamp, that wasn't going to be very convenient.  Plus, as I mentioned before, I'm a visual person and like things I need to be reminded of in sight.

My solution was a desktop file box, which is big enough to fit all of the things that I need to action, but is also small enough that it's not obtrusive and is easily portable, so I can easily carry it into the living room if I want to work on things while watching TV.  (The small factor will also prevent me collecting too much stuff in there, as well!)

My first step was to take those piles of things and organize them into groups that required a similar action.  It boiled down into these major categories:
  • Action Items (Ex.: things needing immediate action: bills to pay, invites to RSVP to, etc.)
  • To Read (Ex.: a catalog I'd like to flip through)
  • To File (Ex.: paid bills, receipts, etc.)
  • To Shred (Ex.: anything with sensitive info that I don't need to file)
  • To Log (Ex.: a new recipe, or a travel idea I saw in a magazine)
  • Upcoming Events (Ex.: wedding invitations, hotel confirmations, etc.)
Taking the suggestion from the book, I set up hanging file folders for each of these main categories, all with the label on the left side.  (I employed my newly acquired label maker for this purpose and had fun using the floral frame design!)  I've always been one to stagger the labels so that it made it easier to see them (like most of the world), but the author makes a point that it just makes it more confusing to the eyes, which have to dart back and forth to read them.  I noticed myself doing that at work soon after I read that...she had a point!

Then, for some of the categories, I set up sub-folders using regular manila file folders.  For these, I picked only right-side tabs.  For example, in my "Upcoming Events" category, I have one folder for each of two weddings I am attending this spring.  When the event comes up, I can just grab the folder and should have all of my travel reservation confirmations there, along with the wedding invitation.

Here is the final box set-up!

I've been using the box for about two weeks now, and I am keeping up with it.  I think there are a few success factors at work here:
  1. My desire to get organized obvious helps a lot!
  2. The fact that my box is appealing to the eye, so it's more pleasant to use.  (It's easy to love organizing when you love the things you use to keep you organized.  Did you notice the patterned lining in the box?)
  3. It's easy to use, which is due to me setting up relevant categories, so I'm never left with a piece of paper I don't know where to put.
Then, when I have some time to tackle to-do items, I can simply pick a folder and work on the items inside.  Since the items in each folder are all related, I can accomplish these in batches, saving me time compared to jumping from task to task.

Overall, I'm very happy with this new set-up. I'm sure as I go along these categories will need to change, but this is a thousand times better than all those piles!

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