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Making Magic in Your Office

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Buying a gadget and thinking you are going to be organized overnight is like buying a set of golf clubs and thinking you can beat Tiger Woods the next day. If you have paper stacked around your office, buying the latest (planner, calendar, PDA, software or gadget), will not make the mountains of paper magically disappear. What you need is not in the box! To be organized, you need to make decisions and establish good habits.

The volume of paper that flows into our lives these days may seem like the problem, but the real issue is deciding what to do with each piece of paper. A common but unproductive practice is to shuffle paper without making a decision. At the core of a well organized person is the ability to make timely decisions.

The Office Funnel*
In the kitchen, a funnel is used to direct a downward flow. Similarly, the office funnel has a wide top to catch and direct paper flow. The lower, narrow end of the office funnel channels the flow of paper. Using the funnel approach, make one of five decisions about each piece of paper on your desk:
1. Discard
2. Delegate
3. Take action now
4. File for follow-up
5. File for long term reference

Beginning at the wide end of the funnel, throw out more than you keep. ‘Make it disappear’ by tossing the unnecessary. Each day, decide when you will begin the funneling process. Have what you need on hand: a letter opener, trash/recycle bin, shredder.

It’s not realistic or productive to do it all. Let the perfectionist in you go, and realize that someone else may do a job just as well, if not better than you. Do what you do best.

Take action now
As you view a document, determine the next action needed. Can be done in three minutes or less? Do it now and eliminate the paper. If it’s a lengthier task, move the paper down the funnel to the next decision.

File for follow-up
This is a unique location for papers that need to be kept for future action by you. Use a ‘tickler’ file. This is a low-tech solution with hanging files labeled 1 to 31 and the months of the year. Consider when the action needs to occur, and file the paper on a specific date, such as the 15th. Build a habit of checking your tickler file. It takes 21 to 30 days to establish a habit, so stick with it.

File for long term reference
Important information filters down to the narrowest part of the decision funnel. This distilled information is potential power. Your files are a valuable asset, if you can retrieve what you need when you need it.

In As a Man Thinketh, author James Allen states “All that man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts [decisions].”

*Adapted from Betsy Tookmanian’s chapter “The Vanishing Pile” in the book Focus, Organization, Productivity.