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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.

    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 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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