#260 from R&D Innovator Volume 6, Number 2          February 1997

Take a Break—and Organize
by Sheree Bykofsky

Ms. Bykofsky is a New York literary agent who is author of 500 Terrific Ideas for Organizing Everything (Round Stone Press, 11 E. 47th St., New York, NY, 10017) 1992, from which this article is adapted.  Phone (212) 308-1253.

How many times have you, the busy manager, said to yourself, “How am I going to find time to get myself organized!”?  “My desk is a mess.”  “My address file isn’t updated.”  “My notes are scattered all over.”  Certainly, if you were better organized, your productivity and efficiency would increase.  What can you do?

Being organized is an ideal, a goal to move forward, not a state to achieve.  To expect perfection in anything is to invite defeat.  If you spend too much of your time organizing, you won’t be very productive.  Use several of the ideas here to streamline your routine procedures and to eliminate some of the clutter that slows you down.  Use them creatively and they will help you design your own organizing system to bring order directly to the areas where you need it the most.

They Know Best

If you can’t figure out how to organize something, look for a model.  In other words, to organize your books, adopt the system used by a library or bookstore.  Look at catalogs or go to stores that deal with organizational equipment.  Perhaps you can use special filing trays or file dividers.

Map it Out

Plan before you start.  Whether you are working or traveling, almost everything takes longer if you don’t envision the big picture ahead of time.  Planning also prevents foul-ups.  You wouldn’t set off on a long trip without a map.  At work, as in driving, you need to have directions but to be flexible when you run into traffic and tie-ups.

My Idea

In life, unlike in driving, you can often make the rules.  Avoid following other people’s complicated plans unless you thoroughly understand, and preferably agree with, the logic.  Whenever possible, devise your own plan.

This is the Day

Name one day a month “Organizing Day.”  Put it on your calendar and consider it an important appointment.  Metaphorically and physically, clear some space for yourself.  Note where you waste time.  Make an effort to be more efficient.  Take the time to put organizers in your drawers, throw out old files, or re-file more efficiently.

More Than Once

You may have heard the guilt-producing fallacy that you should handle any piece of paper only once.  Most professional organizers today agree that this advice is nonsense.  You may need to check a letter, report, or advertisement more than once; but try to keep your paper handling to a minimum.  Just make sure you are productive each time you handle a paper, even if you merely indicate where the paper is to be filed and throw it into a box marked “To be filed.”

Clean Out

Go through your Rolodex or telephone directory periodically and remove people you haven’t called in years, can’t imagine ever calling, or don’t even remember.  Dump ‘em.

Advance Warning

Use your appointment calendar to remind yourself to prepare for appointments, when necessary.  For example, for every entry that says, “Report due,” there should be at least one preceding it saying, “Write report.”  You may also want an even earlier entry of “Gather data for report.”  Allow generous blocks of time for such tasks.

Computer Help

There are many kinds of computers and software that should easily handle some of your most time-consuming organizing tasks.  Would it save you time in the long run to put your address file on the computer?  Just remember to update your back-ups.  How about scanning articles and other printed matter into the computer?  Perhaps your personal calendar should be maintained on the computer.  Consider keeping a pocket computer with you at all times.

When in Doubt

If you’re the kind of person who keeps every paper, set up two files.  Call one “to be filed,” and the other “to be thrown.”  In the former, note where you expect to file each page so you don’t have to read it again to file it.  The latter should be set up as a tickler file—a series of folders, one for each month of the year.  Put such things as event announcements or seminars that will expire in these files under the month when the notice can be thrown away.  When the month arrives, sort through quickly, or if you can muster the courage, dump the contents without looking.

Start Fresh

If you can’t locate something in a file, all the time you spent looking for and obtaining the item, clipping it, saving it, and filing it has been wasted.  Go through your files and note all the items you have never looked back on.  Then, the next time you’re holding that piece of paper and thinking about where it goes, consider the trash.  Now, rethink your filing system.

On the Run

Consider making verbal lists, especially when you’re in a hurry.  Get a small, portable voice-activated tape recorder and record your ideas, long- and short-term plans, and memos to yourself and others.  You may also want to use the recorder to tape your interviews and business meetings.  When you get home at night, transfer those notes onto paper and sort them into your files and lists.

Every Day

Whether you use a personal organizer, a pen and paper, a computer scheduler, a hand-held computer or a Post-it pad, sit down every morning and take the time to plan your day.  You’ll accomplish much more that way than if you just let the day happen.  In addition to scheduling appointments in your appointment book or calendar, generate a daily activity list.

First Things First

Prioritize your daily activities by listing them all and then numbering them in the order in which you intend to do them.  If you want to be a good time manager, take care of the important things first rather than the easy things.  Many busy people procrastinate by always attending to unimportant details.  Then they end up frazzled and puzzled when, at the end of the day, they don’t have time or energy for the important things.

The Red Flag

Still another way to prioritize your daily list of things to do is to color-code your activities.  Write your most important tasks in a bright color such as red, and after listing all of your daily plans, use a yellow or green highlighting pen to draw your attention to other top-priority tasks.

Take Breaks

You’re not a machine, and even machines need rest.  Get out of the office or lab.  Go out for lunch or take a walk.  Clear your mind and your body.  A person can’t be productive from morning until night without at least one good breather.

Clear it Out

If not at the end of every day, then at least by Friday, you should be able to see the bottom of your in-box.  Make this your mantra:  read it, do it, file it, or dump it.

You can easily think of many other tips to help you organize.  The main thing is that you realize the need to be more organized, and that you do something about it

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