Organizing Tips

Jan 17

How to Set Up an Action! System for Papers (so you actually get stuff done)

Having a set spot where you put any papers that you need to do something about is essential to your productivity and sanity. You can’t pay that bill or rsvp to that party if you can’t find the damn thing. I like using clear, three section vertical files for Action! systems for two reasons: they have a small surface footprint or can be mounted on the wall, and you can see when there’s stuff inside them that you need to take care of. Notice that there aren’t any folders inside the files? I’ve found that if you can’t see it, you won’t do it.You can also use a series of trays, but stuff gets forgotten more easily as it piles up in trays. The vertical-ness of this type of file makes it easier to thumb through and see what’s there.  What you name the three sections depends on what kinds of action items you have (an action item is anything that requires you to do something about it, not a paper that you need to keep for your records or reference). These are the two types of Action! systems that I set up most frequently with my clients:

This one’s particularly helpful if you don’t open your mail right next to your shredder, or if you get a lot of newsletters/reading materials. Generally, things like magazines don’t go in the Action! system, because they’d take up too much space. This system works also works well if you’re paperless on most of your bills, so you don’t have as many time-sensitive action items.

If you’ve got an alternate spot for reading materials and take things straight to the shredder, this prioritized Action! system might be the one for you. Urgent stuff (bills, things that need to be done in the next week, etc,) go up front. Non urgent, but still time sensitive things (upcoming events you want to get tickets to, a card you want to respond to, etc.) go next, and then things that you’d like to do (a restaurant to try, a book recommendation, etc.) but have no real time limit on them go in the back. Just remember to check the non urgent section periodically to see if anything has become urgent as time passes.

You might also try grouping the items by tasks, like Calls to Make, Computer, or Mail. Getting stuff done in batches is way faster than jumping back and forth between different types of tasks.

The real key to a successful Action! system is scheduling time to do the stuff. Having it all in one place make that so much easier, but it’s still not going to take care of itself. Pick a time during the day, or one day a week, where you consistently work on action items. You’ll be so happy to get it done!

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