The_File_Act_Toss_system_top_onlySetting up an organized and productive workspace doesn't have to be difficult or overwhelming.  Start with the premise that clutter is postponed decisions.  A large part of the reason you have piles of paper on your desktop, a full email inbox and/or notebooks full of notes and lists is that you are postponing making decisions on these items.  Either you aren't sure how to decide, or you don't have the systems in place to deal with the item once you do decide.  

Break down each and every item that you deal with - whether it be a piece of paper, an email, a phone message or notes from a meeting - into one of three categories. You either need to File it, Act on it, or Toss it. Then, set up your Magic 6TM; the six systems or tools every workspace needs to be organized and productive and to give you the comfort of knowing you will find what you need, when you need it.

The Magic 6TM

1. Desktop and Capture Tools: Desktop and capture tools include those you use to collect your incoming information before it is processed or filed.  The simplest case of this is an "Inbox", or tray, on your desktop.  You may also capture items that need "To Be Filed," as well as those that need to go "Out" of your office.  If you are working towards a paperless environment, your scanner is considered a capture tool.  You may also have a tray for those papers that need "To Be Scanned."  Stacking trays such as those shown below from Ultimate Office are a great tool as they take up less real estate and can provide a visual limit to the amount of paper you collect before it is processed.

2. Trash, Shred, Recycle Tools: While it seems like common sense that in order to Toss an item, you need to have a trash can, shredder or recycle bin, review where these are located for you.  Is it simple to Toss when you need to?

3. Calendar: Be sure you have a calendar system that works well for your needs and work style.  If you still enjoy a paper calendar, I recommend The Planner Pad (please contact me for a 20% discount).  If you like an electronic calendar, be sure it is easy to access whenever and wherever you need it.  You may achieve this with an application on your phone or notebook, or sync with an online calendar such as Google Calendar.

4. Contact Management System: You will need a good system to store emails, phone numbers, and other contact information as you receive it.  You may also need a place to store business cards or wish to have the ability to scan and save them in an online system.  If you run a business or handle sales or customer service for a company, you may need to take contact management a step further by using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool.  In this situation, it is very important to do a thorough needs analysis before determine which system is the best fit for your company.

5. Action Files: It is vital to have a location and system for storing information that requires Action.  For time-sensitive items in paper form, you might use a desktop action file such as the one shown below. 

In addition, you should have a system for storing project related information.  For this, I recommend hanging files in a color different from your Reference Files.  Tools used for actionable items should be close at hand.  Electronic information related to actionable items should be stored in a way that is easily retrieved when needed.  For example, attaching an email to the related task will insure you have the related information along with the task reminder.

6. Reference Files: This is information that does not require action but needs to be Filed for future reference.  Reference information in paper form should be stored in hanging files and labeled in a way that allows for easy retrieval.  One example is to use a numbering system with an electronic index for searching.  Electronic reference information might be stored in a system architecture that mirrors your paper files, or it might be stored to follow the way that you work (e.g. by client, by project, by type of work, or by year).

The specific systems or tools used for each of The Magic 6TM are an individual choice.  It is important to find something that you like, that works for you on a daily basis, and that you will maintain.  In addition, if you share information with others you will want to insure they are involved in the choice and/or trained on the system.  Your new systems may not be perfect right away, so continue to tweak and update them as needed.  And, review them in the future as your environment or work habits change.  Reward yourself for a job well done and enjoy your organized and productive environment!

© 2005-2014 Barbara Hemphill-Productive Environment Institute.  All trademarks and registrations are the property of Barbara Hemphill.

See Blog library at right for complete history