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Productivity & Organizing Myth #6 – I can find anything in my piles.

Productivity & Organizing Myth #6 – I can find anything in my piles.

Myth: Piles of papers or things are organized and people can find anything quickly in those piles. They say, “Believe it or not I know where everything is.”
Reality: It takes a lot of time for people to find specific papers within piles and often they don’t find the papers until they’re no longer needed. This leafing through piles often causes a lot of stress that the user is accustomed to but relieved to eliminate by getting organized in the end. Papers grouped together by topic are the most useful and findable.

Pile

    You know the scene. You walk into an office or cube and see papers everywhere. The piles of papers might be neat – stacked horizontally as individual towers of unknown ‘important stuff.’ The piles of paper might be smeared across the desk leaving no desktop showing and looking like a mound. Usually old piles or special collections were relocated to the floor making it difficult to move about in the space.

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    Sometime you can’t have a meeting in the person’s office because there just isn’t a clear view between you and him or because the visitor’s chair holds the papers related to the last couple of projects.


    When decluttering offices with clients I often hear, “Oh, there it is! I haven’t seen that in a while,” and,”Oh, there it is, I could have used that last week!” Hours before, when we first got together, they said they can find anything then they show the reality ~ they lost things in the piles.

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    Last week we found a folder titled, Review, in Jane’s cubicle. The contents of the folder help her contribute to her annual performance review at work every January. She usually looks at the last couple of years’ goals, objectives, and progress and is ready to write her portion of the review with long-range point of view. But, this year her she had to write it on the fly because that folder was buried under months of completed paperwork. We relocated the Review folder in a file drawer designated for the personal side of her recordkeeping. (That is opposed to the project collateral of her other file drawers.) We labeled the folder more clearly and she will be able to find it in a snap next time she needs it.

    Another frequent result of piling things is ending up owning multiple of them or having to go without. For example, Howard always borrows scissors from Blake since they have a low wall separating their cubes. When decluttering Howard’s space we found scissors ~ they were under the pile of thing in the drawer all along.

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    Some readers will relate in that they have multiples of things because they couldn’t find their thing so bought another. For example, they might have 3 or 4 vegetable peelers. Often I hear of closets with 5 of the same color shirt in basically the same style because the original shirts got hidden in an over-crowded and disorganized closet. In the garage they might have 3 identical hose nozzles.

    The productive solution to this clutter myth is to put like things together, identify the home for the group, label the home, and return items to the home consistently.

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    Previous Myths:

    Susan Sabo is an intrepid traveler who has organized her life to be out of the country for months at a time. Antarctica is the only unvisited continent (so far). She’s the author at www.productivitycafe.com, consults with professionals on improving their personal productivity and presents motivating productivity SOPs & tips (such as how to get home for dinner) to groups.

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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