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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 April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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