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Is Your Desk an Expert in Pile Management?

Written by: Lorraine Twombly
Published: April 2010

imageHow many of you out there have desks that are filled with different piles (neat or messy)?  How about a priority pile or in-box pile? Do you have a look-at-it-later pile or a filing pile?  How many times do you look up and think, "I wonder what's in that new pile I just started that I should be aware of?"  or "Why is my priority pile so high and how many things are falling through the cracks?"  Do you sometimes find yourself with too many pieces of different kinds of projects all over your desk? 

Well, every time I feel overwhelmed with piles on my desk, I always remember what works best!  "Put it through the funnel!"  Put everything on your desk through the "funnel."  Putting things through the funnel means making time to go through everything on your desk and, once you have completed this task, you can easily maintain a one-touch system without all the piles that clutter your desk.  

When Ralph and I first started our business back in the early to mid-90s, we were known as the expects in helping others to get personally organized.  One of the skills of personal organization that we got really good at is keeping our desks clear while maintaining a quick-touch system of locating the file or documents we needed to do the work.  We’ve been doing it ever since and will continue to use this model as a way to get back on track when things get really busy.

If you sometimes find yourself in a "pile" management situation (like above), here are some tips that will help with clearing your workspace/desk:

  • Choose a drawer in your desk or just near your desk that you can have immediate access to when doing your work.
  • Empty the drawer and find places for things that were in it that can be filed remotely (or discarded if obsolete files).
  • Set up a 3-file system (hanging folders) and title them:
    • Mail & Correspondence (for replies, follow-ups, and immediate action items, like a daily working file).
    • Projects & Miscellaneous (these files are set up by project with manila folders heading the projects and misc tasks and set up in alpha order - you may need several hanging files to support your workload).
    • Reading (articles, magazines, email correspondences for future referencing - recommend a once a month clean out).
  • Select your most important/priority pile and take one item at a time and decide if action needs to be taken (a reply, a follow-up time to revisit the item, if it needs to be thrown away or filed) and file in one of the 3 files, which is a good, safe place to be keeping crucial information and have it within reach, just not on top of your desk .
  • If action needs to be taken to something you are taking off the pile, plan a day when you need to look at the item and then file it in one of your 3 files (example, if a correspondence to handle ASAP, we recommend using the Mail & Correspondence file…if it’s a project, file it behind the Projects & Miscellaneous hanging file with it's own manila folder to keep things separate, if it's something you need to read, stick it in the Reading file and so on).
  • Continue to dwindle from the pile and decide if you want to:
    • Plan when to do something about it (I always use my Outlook to remind me to do certain things each month).
    • Do it as soon as you take it from the pile due to urgency
    • Discard it
    • Set it aside to file distantly (and make a plan to file the distant things to complete your uncluttered desk look).
  • Once the piles have been eliminated, continue each end (or beginning) of the week to maintain your awesome-looking desk.

Things to remember when planning:

  • When planning your tasks, make sure to reference which of the 3 files you filed the information in.
  • When projects are completed, weed out your files to make room for new, immediate projects and correspondence coming through.

All these years and it still works for us...we hope this will work for you too!

If you need more help you may want to think about attending our workshop Personal Organization and Project Management

So how about electronic files?  The good news is that it minimizes some of the paper we accumulate on our desks.  Next month, I will write an article on how to keep your electronic files cleared up and backed up!

We welcome your comments, so please do not hesitate...Best Regards!

Lorraine Twombly

Lorraine Twombly