Even in this digital age we all must deal with some paper. How do you keep yours, and does it matter?
Four great questions to ask about how you manage you paper.
I once shared an office with a therapist whose style of organizing was different from mine. We shared the caseload of an adult/adolescent psychiatric unit. In our work, we used lots of forms and handouts. While our organizing and paper management philosophies were different, yet they were both effective. She was a classic "piler." She kept her important papers in a large pile on top of the desk. She could go to the pile of paper on the desk and find the form she needed…in seconds. That paper pile was “her system.” Some of our colleagues saw these piles and felt they looked disorganized and messy. Did the pile hold her back? Could she find what she needed in seconds? Yes, she could find what she needed, when she needed it.
Now, what about my system? I prefer things in files, labeled in folders in a file cabinet and my desktop clear...I think my professional organizer roots were showing here... Could I find what I needed quickly and easily? Yes, my system was not the same as my friends’, but it worked well for me.
Each system had its shortcomings though. When we were training students, how would they find things in the pile on the desk? When our students tried to find information in her piles, it took them more than a few seconds, for sure. How about the students using my system? How would the student find things in my filing cabinet if they did not know what I chose to name the file? Many of them started their own systems for finding what they needed. Some made binders with the forms for running their groups. Others made folders of their own for the filing cabinet. Everyone got to choose the system that they liked best.
I face these same challenges working with clients. There is no one size fits all system that works for everyone. Yet, there are a series of questions that you can ask when setting up a system. These are the four questions, taught to me by my mentor, Barbara Hemphill. Barbara is the founder of the Productive Environment Institute™. She has been making the world a more productive place for over 40 years. Here are the 4 most important questions to ask.
1. Does it work?
2. Do you like it?
3. Does it work for others you care about?
4. Can you recover quickly?
Let me go a little deeper with these four questions:
1. Does it work? Can you find what you need in seconds?
2. Do you like it? Are you satisfied with the way it works?
3. Does it work for others you care about? If you share these files with others, can they find what they need in seconds? This is true for both paper and digital files.
4. Can you recover quickly? This is BIG! Let's face it life happens to everyone. When things in your system get out of control, can you put them back in order in a short time? Think about what your office looks like when you are finishing a big project and have lots of things on the desk. Do you return from traveling to a big pile in the middle of your desk? Are there things you need to put away in your backpack, briefcase, and suitcases? If your system works, then putting it back in order will take minutes, not days.
The lesson here is you get to choose your system. The key is to find a system that works for you in your circumstances.
There will be times when you are working with a system created by someone else. If you go back to question number three - Does it work for those I care about? In this situation, you are the person they care about so, here is your chance to see if you can work together on the system. Adapt the system so it will work for you too.
Wondering how answering these four questions could help you? Let’s chat! Click here to grab a spot on my calendar.
Stay tuned next week for my thoughts on why an index is the secret sauce your organizing system needs!