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Say Goodbye to Your Filing Tray…Forever

Say Goodbye to Your Filing Tray…Forever


    The dreaded filing, piling up on your desk, in your filing tray, on top of the filing cabinet, anywhere except where it is meant to be. Why does such a simple task that requires very little brain power cause such distress in most people? Filing is one of the top jobs that most people procrastinate on.

    Of late I have been trying to simplify my life, moving gradually towards a more minimalist approach and in the process I decided to work from a smaller desk. I reckoned that if there was less desk space to put things on and less drawers space to put things in, it would help me to minimize. It has helped to a certain degree. It forced me to purge all my drawers and only keep the essentials. What also happened was that I had to move my small filing box to a different location, about ten steps from my desk — no longer within arm’s reach of my chair.

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    The result — which has rather amazed me: I accumulated a large pile of filing.

    Lesson 1: Keep your filing cabinet/box very close by

    If you can’t file a document with ease when you finish with it, it is more likely that you will place it in a filing tray than stand up and file it correctly. Most of us have busy schedules and standing up to file one piece of paper would be considered a bad use of time, therefore we let the filing accumulate until there is enough to justify the trip to the filing cabinet. The problem with that is that the bigger the pile gets, the bigger the job appears and we avoid and avoid because (in reality) there are more important jobs to be done. By having the filing cabinet within reach, you eliminate this potentiality. It’s easy and quicker to file on the spot so you get into better habits.

    But in order to be able to file swiftly and efficiently, you must adhere to the second lesson…

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    Lesson 2: Label all your files clearly

    This is a part of the puzzle a lot of people resist. Most people will hand-write labels for their hanging files, thinking it is faster and as clear. Sometimes they write with black pen, sometimes with blue, sometimes ALL IN UPPER CASE and sometimes not — and if you are lucky a black marker will be used.

    Even if you have a system for writing all your labels with black marker in ALL IN UPPER CASE, your files will still not be as easy to find as those that have been created by a labeler. A labeler has a clear, consistent typeset. You may argue this until you are blue in the face…but the labeler works. It is well worth the minor investment. When folders are clear and with your cabinet close by, you will be able to file as you go (as long as you don’t have too many files or folders).

    Lesson 3: Purge filing regularly

    It is widely recognized that an overfilled filing cabinet is detrimental to your health. If you are trying to squeeze a document into an overloaded folder which is also in an overloaded filing cabinet, it won’t end well.

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    Set a date and time once every couple of months to purge older documents. Find out local regulations about how long you must keep documents for tax and legal purposes. Minimize the amount of paper you possess and only hold on where absolutely necessary. If your paperwork is weighing you down — you could also try paperless.

    Lesson 4: Explore the possibility of paperless

    It has become quite popular of late to go paperless. You will hear many organizations proudly state that they are a paperless office or a paperless organization. This means that documents are not printed out but rather that documents come in paper format and then are scanned into the computer for filing.

    The challenge with a paperless system is to ensure that the electronic documents are filed for easy retrieval. A clear and simple hierarchical filing system should be used, combined with a strong search facility on your computer.

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    Lesson 5: Keep it simple

    Keep your categories simple and don’t overcomplicate. David Allen recommends a simple A-Z filing system, which works well if you have a lot of filing.

    In my home office I don’t have too many files, so I am happy to file by category. For example, I have a Home file where my insurance documents and facilities documents are filed in separate manilla folders, and a Car file where my car insurance, car taxes and other related documents go. Remember the goal of your system is to have easy and fast retrieval — so see what works best for you.

    Stick to these rules and never stress over an overcrowded filing tray again. A no-stress clutter-free desk awaits you.

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    Do you have any filing tips you’d like to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below.

    (Photo credit: 3D Illustration of Information via Shutterstock)

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    Ciara Conlon

    Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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