It can be hard to be productive when your desk is covered in paper. Clutter has a way of making people feel stressed out, distracted and/or overwhelmed. When this happens, it’s a good idea to invest some time in organizing the paper around you so it doesn’t slow you down.
Paper can be one of the most time-consuming things to organize because every sheet is a decision. Am I going to attend the event on this flier? When will I file this claim? Should I call about this $5 charge I don’t recognize or is not worth my time? This is one of the big reasons why people accumulate paper so fast. However, there is a relatively quick way to organize the paper on your desk and set up an organizing system so your desk doesn’t get covered in paper again.
The trick is to sort into five broad categories first and then sort some of the piles into subcategories afterwards. This prevents you from having 20 piles of paper take over your office and finding yourself in the middle of an all day project you didn’t plan time for. This method gives you multiple opportunities for stopping points without a big mess.
To begin, move the bin you use to discard paper next to your desk before you start sorting. The most basic categories for sorting any kind of clutter are Keep and Get Rid Of, so that is the first thing to decide about each piece of paper.
Category #1: Trash/Recycle
When you decide to throw something out, put it directly into the trash or recycle bin as you sort. Make a pile of the paper with sensitive information that you want to shred next to the bin.
Category #2: Shred
After you’re done sorting all the paper, put the Shred pile in a box labeled “To Shred” so you don’t mix it up with other paper later. Schedule a time in your calendar to shred the paper yourself or take it somewhere to be shredded. From now on, collect all paper you want to shred in that box and shred it when it’s full.
Category #3: Take Action
This is paper you’re keeping because it pertains to something you need to do.
Some common examples are:
Category #4: Refer To Later
This is paper you want to keep because you want to look at it later.
Some common examples are:
Category #5: Supplies
Supplies are blank paper products like legal pads, unused envelopes, craft paper, computer paper, sticky notes, etc. Only keep what you use frequently on your desk. Trash or recycle any that are crumpled, dirty, or otherwise not useable. For supplies in good condition, give away the ones you don’t think you’ll use and put the rest where you have other office supplies.
Your first stopping point for this project will depend on the volume of paper you’re dealing with and how much time you have left after sorting into the five categories. I recommend boxing up the shredding and putting away supplies right after you’ve sorted all the paper into the five categories.
The Take Action pile is where the urgent and important paper is, so I recommend sorting it next. My favorite thing to do with this kind of paper is to store it in a container that holds paper vertically on top of the desk, with categories like:
Everyone’s categories for action paper will be slightly different. The examples above are some common themes to inspire and guide you. Don’t forget make time to deal with action paper on a regular basis.
The Refer To Later pile will also need to be sorted and put away at some point. My favorite way to store this kind of paper is in a filing cabinet, with exceptions for certain kinds of memorabilia. Being organized is a lifestyle choice, so keeping things organized requires diligence.
I’d love to hear about your desk paper organizing challenges and successes. Please share your stories in the comments. Your experiences and ideas can help other readers change their habits and learn something new.
One of the hardest parts of time management can be figuring out how long something will take so you can plan accordingly. The good news is it’s a skill anyone can get better at with some awareness and practice.
The first thing to be aware of is people have a tendency to underestimate how long it will take to do something they’ve done many times, and overestimate how long it will take to do something they’ve never done. Things we do all the time blend into our lives, whereas unfamiliar tasks can be daunting.
One of the most common things people forget about when planning their time is transitions. Here are a few examples of frequently overlooked transitions:
All of these things usually take longer than one minute, but many people seldom plan much longer than that for transitions.
One last thing to be aware of is sometimes we make time guesses based on how long we want something to take, rather than how long it realistically takes. The road to unhappiness is paved with unrealistic expectations, so do your best to make time estimates based on experience rather than wishes.
Even if you think you have poor time management skills, there is probably at least one area in your life where you are already correctly estimating how long something takes. Getting to work is often one of these things.
It’s important to most people to be on time to work, so many people figure out how long it takes to get to work through a combination of planning and trial and error. The first day of work people usually guess how long it will take them based on some kind of similar experience, or look up their path online and maybe consider factors like how long they might have to wait for the bus and how bad traffic might be. After seeing how late or early they were on the first day, they plan accordingly for the next day. By the time they’ve had the job for a week or so, they know they must leave their home by a certain time to avoid being late.
Applying this same concept consciously and methodically will show you how long any task will take. Here’s how:
For a simple task that doesn’t vary much, such as taking a shower or unloading the dishwasher, timing it 1-3 times will be sufficient.
For something more complicated like getting a research paper done, first break it down into smaller tasks like deciding the specific topic, finding books at the library, assembling an outline, writing the first draft, and editing it into a final draft. Guess and time each of the parts separately. The details of what happens during a trip to the library or sitting down to write a paper can vary a lot, so these are the kinds of tasks that I recommend timing three or more times. The more variable a task is, the more times you need to time how long it took.
Like any skill, practice is the key to getting better. The data you collect by logging how long things take will help you plan for the tasks you’ve logged, and it will bring to light your unique patterns around guessing time and how long it actually takes you to do things. This awareness will help you more accurately estimate familiar and unfamiliar tasks in the future.
I’d love to hear about your time estimating challenges and successes. Please share your stories in the comments. Your experiences and ideas can help other readers improve their skills and overcome obstacles.
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