Ultimate Spring Cleaning, Day 19: File Away

by Michael on April 9, 2010 · 0 comments

For some reason he started all his folder labels with "Z". (Photo by VickieVictoria)

Ultimate Spring Cleaning is a project to clean and declutter not only your house, but your life. Each day you’ll get a housecleaning assignment, an assignment that involves the world around you, and a project to clear your mind. You can start anytime at the Ultimate Spring Cleaning main page.

You’re still in your home office area today. If you keep much paperwork around—or even if you don’t, but need a system for keeping your incoming tasks straight—today’s tasks are right up your alley.

Your Home: Create a Filing System

Paperwork can creep up on you. One day you’re looking at a clean desk, and the next there are stacks of paper chin-high. Even in the modern e-mail, e-ticket, e-bill world, somehow we amass hard-copy documents.

Now’s the time to get them under control.

There are a number of good methods for filing, and the one you ultimately use should be the one that works for you. The filing system I use is based on the one in David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. You’ll need four things for this system:

  • A box of file folders
  • A label maker (Do not hand-letter your folders. Printed labels will always be easier to read than hand-written ones. I don’t care now neat your penmanship is.)
  • A physical inbox, made of cardboard, plastic or metal
  • A filing cabinet or box

The first thing you’ll do is grab 43 of those folders and label them: numbers 1-31, and months January through December. Place them in your filing cabinet.

Now go through your pile of papers one at a time:

  • If it’s not absolutely necessary to you, toss it in the recycle bin or shred it.
  • If it’s something you must act on in the future, put it in one of the folders you just made. If it needs action this month, place it in the folder corresponding to the day you must act. If it needs action in a future month, place it in that month’s folder.
  • If it’s something you can act on immediately, put it in your inbox for now.
  • If it’s something you must keep for future reference (Are you sure? Really?) create a folder for it. If you already created a folder that matches this document, put it in that folder.

When you create folders, remember to use labels that make logical sense. Start all of your labels with the most precise word for what the document is, then follow it with any adjectives. For example: “Tax Documents, Personal” and “Tax Documents, Business.” Be specific enough that you don’t have to rummage around in a stuffed folder—if there are too many documents in a folder, that’s a clue that you need to split those documents into more precise folders.

Finally, go to your inbox and act on all of the actionable documents, then either toss or file them as you did with the others.

That’s it. You now have a system with a place for everything.

Now each day you can quickly file or act on everything in your inbox, and then check that day’s folder for documents to act on. When you’ve emptied the day’s folder, put that folder behind the other days, and when the first of the next month arrives, after moving any documents in the month’s folder to the appropriate days, move the month’s folder behind the other months.

You can create a system for your computer too, and we’ll do that tomorrow.

Your World: Use a Calendar

In recent days you’ve determined what you’ll be doing with your time, and which commitments you value. You also have a filing system. Now let’s look at how you track your time on an ongoing basis.

Your task now is to make sure you have a system that ensures you not only remember your commitments, but remember you’re committed well ahead of time so you can prepare, ask friends to come along, and avoid “double-booking.” In other words, if you don’t use a calendar of some kind, you should start.

You probably have no problem remembering your regular commitments, but we all have one-time events like parties, concerts or special events, and if you’re socially active you may have a lot of them. Ever have that nagging feeling that you were supposed to be somewhere? A calendar takes your mind off remembering these events so that you can concentrate on the now.

Calendars can be physical (a wall calendar or day-planner) or electronic (Microsoft, Google and Yahoo all have free online calendars). iCal (Mac) and Outlook Express (Windows) are on almost all computers, and many smart phones will sync with your computer’s calendar application. Most electronic calendars also have a feature that will alert you when an event is approaching. You can even set up multiple notifications: for instance, if there’s a concert on the 27th, you can set one alarm for the 26th to make sure you go, and another for the 20th so remind you to find someone to go with you.

As with all the systems we discuss here, this will only work as well as you make it. You have to enter the events into the calendar. If you’re using an electronic calendar, many online invitations (such as those on Facebook or Evite) offer a link to put the event on your calendar with one click. (You’ll still have to set any notifications, though.)

Try using a calendar for a while, and see if it doesn’t give you a bit more peace of mind. It will also come in handy when we organize your computer tomorrow.

Yourself: Have Some Fun

If you started Ultimate Spring Cleaning on a Monday, it’s now Friday—and Friday nights are free nights to blow off steam and/or any nervous energy. Do something that stimulates your mind, body or both. And since you ended your two weeks of temperance, you can even have a drink or two. Go dancing or go-karting or have a poker night with the boys. Your choice.

Just remember to meditate and get a good night’s rest. See you tomorrow.

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