Wednesday, February 17, 2010

SOS! Organize And Tickle Yourself Into Action

I went camping this past weekend with our Boy Scout troop. The event was called "The Freeze Out" and the weather was definitely cold. Since we're Scouts, we prepared by wearing layers and bringing the appropriate sleeping gear. My sleeping bag is rated to 15 degrees and I had a fleece liner which added another 10 degrees of warmth. By the way if you are an occasional camper always use a liner. Liners are easy to wash and keep the sleeping bag fresh. We enjoyed fresh snow, a beautiful - but brief - starry night, and lots of deer. (Oh, and much hot coffee for the leaders!) It was really lovely. Of course, there is no internet in the wilderness so I'm posting SOS! today.

LaRhonda asked "I have heard that tickle files are the way to get your office organized. What are they? Why are they so good?"

I'd like to preface the explanation by stating there are many ways to organize. There isn't a one-size-fits-all strategy for organizing. As long as a strategy works for you - that's super. Many popular techniques are, what I call, eighty percent techniques. The techniques work pretty well for about eighty percent of people, but they do not work for everyone. Sometimes it's necessary to try a couple of approaches before finding one that works well for you.

When it comes to organizing paper that needs action there are generally two ways to handle it: sort the paper by the category of action that's needed or sort it by the date the action needs to happen. I have discussed the merits of the former category frequently. When you set up files with names like "to pay," "to call," "to read," and "to follow-up" you are organizing papers by category of action.

But sorting paper by the date the action needs to happen leads us to the "tickler file." The other name for the "tickler file" is "43 folders" because a folder is set up for each of the twelve months and for each of the thirty-one possible days in a month. So if a bill must be paid on the twelfth of the current month it will be filed in the folder labeled "twelve" and that wedding invitation for June 5 can be filed in the June folder.

The tickler file requires the discipline to check the file each and every day. Daily action may seem like a lot of effort, but it probably will take about thirty seconds to check the file. Plus doing the same thing everyday means that activity will become routine - and that's good. Routine activities require less thought and energy than novel activities. Think about how exhausting it was to first drive a car. With practice, all the little things that are done to safely operate a car became routine, and driving required less emotional energy.

When filing things away remember that the due date is not the same thing as action date. The action date precedes the due date so there is enough time for the paper to go through the mail, or get processed by the bank or whatever needs to be done in order to be considered done. There may be a two to seven day difference between what you determine the action date to be and the due date.

Most of the clients I have worked with preferred the categorizing paper by action because it made intuitive sense to them. Tickler file systems seem to work well when there is a massive amount of paper to be processed. Whether you store your paper by category or date, it is vital that you provide a way to account for how you’ll process the paper. Although it’s nice to have tidy storage, the organization is pointless if you do not process the paper.

How to get the processing done? Schedule it! Put ten to fifteen minutes (or more, if needed) in your daily agenda for taking care of paper. That little appointment will “tickle” you into being in control of your paper flow.

Thank you LaRhonda for your question and the nomination of St. Louis Children’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit for the end-of-year charity donation.

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