Saturday, August 18, 2007

Making a start in self-organisation

Jeff said:

Ooooo aaaaah. More more..! ;)Still trying to find time to
take this plunge. I know that sounds like I'm not committed to wanting to be
organized, but give me a first step here...

So here’s my first step.

1. Plan the date you’re gong to do this. Don’t think about it, plan it, make the decision to deal with all the stuff and set the time aside to do it. If necessary, plan several dates for the different parts of the process like stray papers, books, desk drawers. I know that David Allen advocates doing the whole sweep in one go, but I’ve found it more rewarding planning different things for different days. It was a big win for me to get my desk clear and tidy and it encourages me to attack the filing and the bookshelves.

As a recovering disorganiser, I know it’s a disciplined choice to change the habit. So take out your diary now, block out a couple of days in a week’s time and keep the date.

2. Go shopping! If you want to make this fun, and believe me it can be fun, go shopping for some supplies. My friend Mark introduced me to the really useful box idea (You can just see it sitting to the right of the picture) and so I went and got a box and the 1-31 and 1-12 files. You can make your own of course with square cut folders. If you can get them, the tabbed folders are really useful and the post-it tape also very useful. I’m an A4 person and the 9-litre box takes the A4 files and folders nicely. In the UK you can get A4 versions of the index files from Amazon. I also bought a label maker (I said you could have some fun, although a label maker might not strike you as fun!)

3. Collect all your unprocessed stuff into one place. If you’re going the whole hog, then that means everything, but if you want a step-by-step approach like I’m using, then start with all the paper that’s accumulated. I took over the dining room table for several days. Fortunately we have a separate dining room so it wasn’t going to be a problem for a couple of days and the truth is, a lot of stuff gets left on the table anyway.

4. Begin to process it. My first pass through all this unprocessed paper was to separate it into discrete piles. I know this isn’t necessarily the GTD way, but it worked for me. I had a pile of recyclable paper, a pile of stuff that needed shredding, a pile of stuff that related to church, school etc. I then did the recycling and the shredding. It would not be an exaggeration to say that two thirds of the paper disappeared at that point. I then took the stuff that just needed to be filed and filed it. I’ve deferred actually doing a filing purge until another day.

I then took each pile that was left in turn and made a decision about each piece of paper. The decision was simply a choice between “do it”, “defer it”, “delegate it” or “dump it”. At this point “defer” simply meant putting it to one side, whereas “do it” was for things that I could sit down right then and deal with very quickly. Eventually the “defer it” pile got turned into scheduled actions or moved into a review folder to come back to at review time.

This narrowed the piles and daylight began to appear.

As I went I also began adding things to my task list, my diary and TR (Thinking Rock). I must admit I put some easy wins in the list because that made me feel good about what I was doing. As an aside I actually found it quite refreshing to write something on the list, then do it, then cross it off. It sounds silly, but it really helps to see those tasks disappear and feel like you’re winning the battle.

After about three days of sifting and processing I had a clear desk and all my stray paper had a home. That doesn’t mean it was in the right place, there’s still a lot of files to sort out, but I’m on the way.

I found that as I processed there were many things about which I felt I couldn’t make a decision in the moment. So I deferred those into the tabbed files for review at the end of the week. This really helped as fatigue set in and my mind was slowing down.

The key is to keep reviewing. I now check my lists and files everyday.

I’m refining how I use my tabbed folders. For example, I have a tab for receipts. When I come home, I take my receipts and put them in the tab. Then, when I get a space when I need a break from a more demanding task, I open the tab, take out the receipts and start entering them into my accounts software.

Remember: Collect; Process; Organise; Review;Do. (As David Allen says!)

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