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Organized 101What's Your Trusted System?
From home to office, every efficient person has a 'trusted system' for organizing. No one system works for everyone. But the better the system, the more organized you - and the your day - will be.
Look at your desk or work area right now. Are there stacks of papers, lists of things to-do, as well as email messages you have marked as important to address? To be efficient you need a system that will help you organize those stacks of both personal and professional items so that you can not only be clutter free physically but mentally as well. You need a system that becomes a part of who you are so to speak, something that becomes second nature. The end result is easy to identify, but what about the method to achieve it? There are many possible routes you can take to organization as well as control of your work space, we have found one that works well and is simple to implement. In the words of a great sage; Keep It Simple Stupid or KISS.
There are four principles of organization that can be used in any Trusted System. The principle behind the Trusted System is that you have one place to find all you need, one place you go to for your appointments, your “things to do” list, your contacts, etc. Each principle of organization is simple, straightforward and easy to implement into your life.
Delegate It – Once you have opened the email or touched the document, decide if you will take action or pass it on. If you pass it on, be sure you are delegating to a reliable source. If you have to keep tabs on the person you have delegated to, you might be better off doing to yourself. If you chose to do it yourself, see “Handle It”.
Handle It – Once you have touched the document or opened the email you need to decide whether you can do it now or later. If the required action can be done within the time you have allotted, handle it now. If not, list the task on your to do list.
File It – You should be able to touch a document or open an email one time and once you have looked at it and taken action decide whether to file it or toss it into the circular file otherwise known as the trash can. For useful tips on filing, go to Life Organizers
Throw It Away – This one is easy, if you don’t need it now or cannot see yourself needing it in the future, throw it away!
Once you have established the method to control the flow of paper and information, decide on the best “system” for you. The system does not have to be hi-tech. In fact it can be downright archaic. Any system you are comfortable with will work. Some people who are familiar with technology and know how to sync their computers with their cell phones and have reminders beep them or maybe they know how to have their phone alert them a new email has come in to Outlook may want to use a Trusted System they are familiar with such as a laptop or PDA that will hold their information. Others may want to use a daily list they create in a standard paper, book format planner.
Whatever your system, get in the habit of using it all the time and for everything. This will assist your physical and emotional wellbeing by helping you to reduce the amount of clutter at your workspace.
In an article by Paul Holstein titled Hundreds of Messages, One ‘Trusted System’ he details his trusted system as well as that of a staffer at Cable Organizer.
As an entrepreneur, I receive more than 250 e-mails a day. Atop that, I get another 20 or so voicemail messages – depending on how much I’m away from my desk on any given day. Add to that all the messages I receive from employees throughout the day, and managing messages along can be a challenge.
My “Trusted System” is Microsoft Corporation’s Outlook Personal Information Management (PIM) solution. It is the home for every e-mail, conversation note, to-do or action item that I receive. Since my company uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), including digital recording of all messages, I even use Outlook to store and reference all my appropriate voicemail messages.
Here’s how it works: All my e-mail messages either stay in my inbox folder until I’ve acted on them, OR they’re dragged and dropped into another folder based on action or client, OR they’re deleted.
My Outlook Task List is an ongoing list of to-dos I’ve entered into my computer. The list is categorized by Context – Home, Business, Calls, Errands, etc. Context provides a conceptual framework by which to organize and add clarity to the items that fill my day. My company uses Microsoft Exchange Server, a collaborative software application designed to synchronize information on each PC or device in use or connected to the network – like desktops, laptops, remote or home offices connected via a Virtual Private Network, or even personal digital assistants (PDAs). So, for example, each entry into my Task List immediately is synchronized from his desktop to his home PC and the Palm PDA I carry with me at all times. The reminder will tickle me to get a document notarized, or get bids for a new device for the CableOrganizer.com warehouse, or . On another, he’s prompted to buy a water filter for his warehouse.
Since my company uses voice over Internet protocol, all voicemail messages are digital; important ones are dropped into Outlook as attachments. All others are deleted.
If during the course of a conversation I happen to jot hand-written notes, I will cull those notes down to action items, which then are placed on my Task List. I do the same for any other action items – To Dos from telephone conversations, voicemail messages, letters and the like.
Even in the Digital Age, for some, paper remains the most reliable way to track one’s daily professional and personal life. In my office, Mildred Alfred’s “Trusted System” personal and professional planning is paper. She uses a popular paper calendar and organization solution widely used in Corporation America. Her large daily planner gives Mildred oversized day- and month-at-a-glance viewing options. In that space, she’s able to jot notes, spot upcoming events and to-dos, and manage her personal life. At 14-by-18 inches when opened, the sturdy seven-ring binder is large enough to command her attention on her desktop, yet manageable enough to carry with her throughout the day.
Within the binder are color-coded tabs for categories, spaces for writing down notes, even an area for tracking personal and business expenses and related financial management. As part of FC’s “Leadership” line, it includes areas for writing and tracking individual or team goals, Vision and Mission guidance (so Alfred can write what she’s doing in order to live in accordance with her vision or mission), and even professional quotes of the day.
Though her planner is paper, her solution is no less a “Trusted System” than mine. We rely equally on both to guide us through our days.
PLANNING THE DAY
Using her Planner, Alfred draws up an action plan for the day. She reviews her coming events, evaluates what must be done in what order, and what her intended accomplishments will be. She also scans the previous day’s entries; any tasks not completed will be brought forward. The Planner includes three months’ worth of calendar: the current, past and coming month. As part of her system, all other months are removed and placed into a separate binder kept on a shelf for future reference.
CREATING A PLAN FOR THE PLANNER
Alfred’s theory for her organization system places an Action or Next Step upon every item or document in her life. In her desk’s inbox are papers, reminders, articles, newspapers, and mail deposited by company staff. Each requires a next physical step to bring it closer to completion. If that step is quick – like to read a note, she’ll do it right away. If it has to be filed, it’s filed immediately in any one of many appropriate folders (like “Leadership”, “Sales”, “Strategy”, “Training”, “HR”, etc. – all of which have been labeled by her Dymo Label Printer, which she considers a critical piece of organizational hardware. “Everything has a name. It’s like people. We have names. In order to ID documents and files they have to have a name”). If it must be delegated, she’ll do so. If it can be browsed and trashed, that’s done as well.
Alfred also has a “Later On” pile for items that require more attention or longer to complete. But few last beyond the end of the business day. If she finds an article worth keeping from one of her magazines, Alfred will clip the article and place it in a clear plastic sleeve within a three-ring binder. Or she’ll pass the magazine along to someone she believes might benefit from reading it. “There has to be an action plan fore every single item. Otherwise it’s trash.”
A BLENDED SOLUTION
Actually, Alfred uses a “blended solution.” Each day, she’ll write notes into her Planner, and all her scheduled events are entered into both her Planner as well as Outlook. She uses a T-Mobile hand-held PDA and wireless phone, and synchronizes her desktop and handheld contents.
At day’s end, after reviewing all her inbox items (mail, notes, records, etc.) as well as her e-mails, she’ll condense all those snippets of information into two categories: Ditch or keep. Those she doesn’t need, Alfred will throw away or delete. Those with any information she needs, Alfred will open a blank Word document, and type and save the contents. In fact, where the FC system calls for writing critical contacts from each month onto a separate page within the binder (so that at year’s end, 12 months of such contacts are included on 12 individual pages, placing critical contacts in one, easy-to-spot location), Alfred’s contacts are placed into Outlook or Word. Conversation notes also find a home in the Planner. Ones requiring a more permanent home find their way to a Word document or the Notes, Tasks or Folders within Outlook. The Planner, though, is the first home for all.
Any financial data, including banking information or business receipts, are transferred Quicken.
This “blended system” creates a de facto back-up of much of Alfred’s most important data. Should her binder be lost, critical contacts never will be farther than her PC.
MIXING BUSINESS WITH PERSONAL
Alfred uses the FC Planner for her personal to-dos as much as her business obligations. On one side of the day-at-a-glance view are her business entries and all the events and notes from her day. On the other are personal reminders and notes. “You have one life. As much as you want to separate the two, the one affects the other. If you’re supposed to pick up dry cleaning or laundry, and it’s not done, what are you wearing to work tomorrow? The more organized both are, the better.”
In any Trusted System, solutions cross “platforms,” or are applicable in paper or digital. The creation of a contact list, calendar or To Do list, conceptually, is required in both. But how they’re created and implemented is – by the very nature of the application – dramatically different. Digital allows for simplified updates and changes to such lists; if someone changes jobs, information can be “moved” from one location to another (or new business names and contact information, like e-mail, address and phone number, can easily replace the old, for example). With paper, updating requires one additional tool: an eraser. The differences are but small obstacles for those who believe in and rely upon either system.
Data and personal information management is an evolving process, improving constantly as users add processes newly discovered. Most of the improvements come from within, though. Mastering and combating procrastination remains an issue. Alfred admits she has to become more immediate about taking her next action steps, because staying ahead of the planning game is critical. “Idle things become clutter,” she says. Besides, another organizational theory Alfred believes is, “Never allow your paperwork to pile so high that you cannot see your friends or coworkers behind it.”
In any office – whether it’s a traditional business, a home office or a consumer’s residence – nothing should remain on the desk or workspace other than that which is being addressed at that time. Anything else is a distraction.
Or, to quote Nike: When it comes to filing, organization and clearing the clutter, “Just Do It.” Not surprisingly, my company’s slogan is “Eliminate the Clutter.”