Remember a few weeks ago when we began this journey to Organizationville? The entry I'm referring to was called "HOW DID I GET INTO THIS MESS?" That day's assignment was to go through a pile on your desk and divide things into 3 categories: File, Action and Toss. Well, I've given you a few days now to work on things --- hopefully you were motivated to do more than just one pile on your desk. I say that because MY piles have grown larger and I'm wondering if you've been infiltrating my piles with your piles as a way of getting YOUR desk cleaned up! Not buying it, eh? Hmmm, and I thought it was just my Pocket Parrot laughing at me just now!
I ran into the grocery store the other day and my struggle over red vs. green peppers was interrupted by a woman who has been reading this Blog since nearly the first day. Amazing. I say amazing because I can't believe she recognized me --- I thought I was in disguise --- hair in a pony tail, no makeup, dog paw prints down the front of my T-Shirt. I hope the Take Home Chef never shows up at MY grocery store.
At any rate, her question was this: If it's in the File Pile is it filed? I wanted to say, "Of course not --- what a stupid idea!" Then I realized that I had not revisited that original thread and probably HAD left everyone thinking that once it was in the File Pile, it was filed! Hmmmm.
So today we will discuss what comes AFTER sorting out those miserable piles of flotsom and jetsum on your desk. I also feel the need to reiterate an earlier question --- have you purchased a shredder yet? If not --- tell the Easter Bunny to give you a shredder instead of chocolates this year. It will last longer and not on your hips!
Lights, Camera, ACTION! The Action Pile may seem self-explanatory, but this is where people get into trouble. Have you ever looked at what the average person puts in an "Action Required" folder? It's like Pandora's Box. Toads hop out and snakes slither away. They become catch-alls for everything you don't want to deal with.
To be useful, an Action Pile needs to be broken down into categories and each category needs its own unique file:
1. Telephone Calls: This file is for telephone calls you need to return or calls you need to make to make to gather information or follow-up on a project. Do NOT include in this folder calls to arrange for appointments. Those go elsewhere. This file is only for calls that need to be made to accomplish a work product.
2. Correspondence: This file is for correspondence you must respond to or for items which require a letter from you to get the ball rolling. Things life a letter of reference would fit this category perfectly. Need to complain to that the groomer that her new assistant made your chihuahua look like a pug --- put it in THIS folder. This is BRIEF correspondence. Do not put status report letters in here. Those types of things need to be entered on your calendar as "To Do" items and the relevant materials need to be placed in the appropriate Project File.
3. Calendaring: Place in this file items to be calendared and items on which you must make telephone calls to set appropriate appointments. Why put the latter in this file? Because once you make that appointment, you need to calendar it immediately. If you put these items in the Telephone Call file, you will likely forget to calendar it --- following the call you will lay the note aside ("I'll calendar this later") and you will have started another undesignated pile on your desk --- to be sorted at some later (unknown) date.
4. Payments: Keep your payment file separate. When you receive a bill that needs to be paid, take a moment and highlight the due date, or write the date you intend to pay it on the upper right-hand corner of the bill. Keep these items in chronological order in this file, according to payment date --- with the bill to be paid the soonest on top.
You may have a few additional categories, unique to your situation (perhaps a "School File" in which you keep items from your child's school which need some sort of action), but you will quickly be able to determine those files as you sort through the Action Pile.
MAKE A HABIT: When you first walk into your office, open the Payments File. Look at what needs to be paid and when. That way you will avoid those "deer-in-the-headlight" moments when you realize you haven't paid the electric bill and they just turned your power off!
RETURNING PHONE CALLS: Set a specific time each day when you make and return telephone calls. Depending on your particular work schedule, try to pick a time when making these calls will not interrupt your project work time, but won't also find everyone you are trying to reach out to lunch! Playing phone tag is a waste of time. I try to return phone calls at 11:00 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. Even if someone takes a late lunch, they have usually returned by 2:30 or so.
Scaling the File Pile! I used to think the File Pile was self-explanatory. Since I've started helping people get organized I find that is not necessarily true. Everyone's mind works differently and there are as many approaches to filing, it seems, as there are to washing dishes. However, the purpose of filing remains unchanged --- to be able to put your hands on a document when you need it --- whether it is 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months after you filed it.
Some people file by the month. Everything which comes in during that month goes in that month's file folder. Seems logical. But I'm not sure it is. At least not for me. If you are looking for an insurance policy which always arrives in November, then it may work. But what if your new printer blows up and you need the purchase receipt to determine if it's still under warranty? Granted, you may remember you bought it from Uncle Joe a month after Cousin Tillie's wedding back in Rhode Island which was in June or July (or maybe August) --- or maybe not! But wouldn't it be far easier if you could go to a file containing all the receipts for your computer hardware, or a printer file for that printer (I happen to have 3 different printers and a fax machine so it's easier to have separate files for each)? You get the drift.
You can categorize your files, if that makes things easier. For instance Family Files could be grouped together in the file drawer with separate files for birth and death certificates, passports, school records, inoculation records, wills and trusts, powers of attorney, etc. Office Equipment could be grouped together with individual files for laptops, PCs, fax/printer machines, telephones, etc. Utility files could be grouped together with individual files for gas and electric, water, home/family phones, lawn maintenance, pool maintenance, home repairs. You could group insurance files, medical files, automobile files, financial files (which SHOULD include separate files for each credit card and bank account you have), etc. You get the drift.
OR, you could simply put ALL of the above files in alphabetical order in your file cabinet. Some people do this, but have one drawer for family/home files and one for business files. Take a few moments to think about this --- I find most people quickly determine which works best for them, once they are presented with the reasonable alternatives. I say that because we have been led, through the years, to believe that there is only one CORRECT way to file things. And that simply is not true. The CORRECT way to file things is the one which allows you the quickest retrieval possible. So the only CORRECT filing system is that which your particular mind can wrap itself around comfortably!!
Today's Assignment: Now that you have parameters for sorting and filing those Action and File Piles, get to work. Files need not be fancy. Use a brightly colored pen and write the labels out -- being consistent in the way you format the labels (i.e. "Insurance: Sissy's Life Insurance"). Get the kids to help you use that fancy label machine someone gave you as the "perfect gift" that's still in the box on the shelf in the closet. Don't worry about how it looks to others. Just get it done and off your desk. I guarantee you will feel 100% better. And you'll be one large step closer to Organizationville!!