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For over two decades I have traveled across the country because organizations have hired me to help their employees get organized. I have trained well over 100,000 people in a seminar called “I’m Spread So Thin You Can See Through Me”.
As I ask participants to create a list of objectives they would like to cover, invariably, there is one that continually shows up…desk management. Now, they might not call it that, but it shows up in a number of other ways like:
“My desk is a disaster area.”
“I have piles all over my office.”
“We are supposed to be going paperless, but I can’t tell.”
“I have no idea if my desk is wood or metal, because I can’t see it!”
“Colleagues put stuff in my chair because the top of my desk is too scary.”
You get the idea.
After inventorying the tops of hundreds of desks, I discovered that most of the stuff piled on our desks is up there for two reasons:
One, it’s up there to remind you to do something.
Two, you don’t know where else to put it in the meantime.
I call all this paper “homeless paper”…it just lives in the environment in your office and occasionally gets displaced to another area of your office to survive.
Here is a great, simple idea to help you gain control of the top of your desk:
- Build a “Homeless Shelter”. Some people call it a miscellaneous A-Z file. There will be 26 folders or files labeled A, B, C, etc.
- Then make a decision on every piece of paper following what I call the 4 D’s of Paper Management (Drop It, Do It, Delegate It, Date It)
Here’s how it works. Grab a piece of paper and run it through the following decision-making grid, making sure you go in order:
Option 1: Drop It – Where might be an appropriate place to “drop” some of the paper on your desk? Trash can?, recycling bin?, a permanent file? Wait, it doesn’t have a home…you just built a homeless shelter for exactly this kind of document. What is the piece of paper called? File it alphabetically in you’re a-z files by that name. Now if the piece of paper requires action (not just Drop It somewhere, go to option 2).
Option 2: Do It – If the piece of paper can be handled in 3 minutes or less…do it… and get it off your desk. If it will take longer than 3 minutes go to option 3.
Option 3: Delegate It – If you can delegate whatever that piece of paper represents…delegate it. (Maybe you are the delegatee and not the delegator so this is not an option for you—then you move to option 4).
Option 4: Date It – If you cannot Drop It, Do It, or Delegate It, the piece of paper in your hand represents something that you need to do. So you Date It. Decide when you are going to do it and put on your calendar or to-do list. But here is the secret when you list this activity on your calendar or to-do list, also record where you filed the piece of paper so when you are reminded to do the task you will also be directed to where the information is filed.
This is part 3 of a 12 part series I call the 12 X’s of Leadership
For the last 23 years, one of the most frequently requested training programs I have conducted is an advanced time management and personal organization workshop entitled “I’m Spread So Thin You Can See Through Me”. In this amazing course I literally teach people how they can learn to manage every detail of their life and never have anything fall through the cracks.
Tens of thousands have participated in it and I typically ask attendees why they sign up and come. Without a close second, “It is because of the title.” they say.
Can you identify with it? Most certainly do.
It seems these days there are more demands on our time, energy, and effort than ever before. I mean think about it…Are you busier right now than ever? Most people answer with a resounding “YES—I’M DYING HERE!”
It seems we have more meetings, emails, commitments, and to-do’s than ever before and not only is the volume greater, but everything seems to be “the most important thing.”
Stress and burnout are at all time highs and it seems that everyone is trying to do more with less, faster, cheaper, safer, and better. The result is a world full of folks who are living on the ragged edge.
Sleep is more difficult to attain because we have trouble turning our minds off. Then if we do fall asleep, better pray that you don’t wake up at 3:00am, because if you do, you will not be able to fall back asleep as the mental to–do list starts racing through your mind as you think about all your commitments.
We have got to learn to purge, or as I call it here — Exchange Non-Essentials. In his best selling book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins introduced a principle that has truly entered into the mainstream of society:
“Don’t let the good things rob you of the best things.”
There are many good things in which to be involved. Special projects at work, committees at church, environmental efforts, social causes, the list goes on and on…these are all GOOD things. But if they are interfering with the BEST things (time with family or friends, your health and well-being, whatever you determine is the BEST), then you would be wise to purge them from your life.
Yes, it hurts. Yes, it is tough to do. But in hindsight you will be so glad you Exchanged Non-Essentials.
Years ago I learned a very simple formula for helping me stay focused on what I truly needed to be working on. I wish I could remember where I learned this 3-step process, as I would certainly give that person a shout out right now. Anyway, suffice it to say, this is not my idea at all, but one that bears repeating.
The three keys to effectiveness are:
- Determine the most important task for now.
- Concentrate on it.
- Forget the rest.
That’s it. Sounds easy enough doesn’t it? So why do so many people struggle doing it?
It really boils down to three separate issues: setting priorities, reducing distractions, and possessing a self-management and personal organization process that ensures nothing will fall through the cracks.
These are the very skills that we teach in two of our hottest programs entitled:
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