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17 Mar

A pile is not a pile

Date: 2010-03-17 17:20 Comments: 2 st

You can easily be led to believe that the piles on the desk primarily are an aesthetic problem; that it gives a negative impression to someone who comes to pay a visit.

Or, that it’s only a problem with order; that the piles make it difficult to find the documents you are looking for when you need them.

But, unfortunately the problem is more serious than that.

What’s hidden beneath…

In other words, a pile is not only a pile. Had it been only a pile of paper and if the problem was only aesthetic, there would be no difference if you replaced the papers in the piles with empty pages, but you don’t, right?

No, because all papers in the piles have in one way or another some kind of worth or value to you. In fact, in the piles lurks a customer who is waiting for you to come back to him, a supplier who’s waiting for payment and is now working away on a demand note, and there is also that one idea that could take your business to new heights but which is now cooling slowly and will finally meet the pile-death.

After all, it’s not the piles that cause the problem. They’re just the symptoms derived from the fact that your ”office processes” don’t run as smoothly as they could.

They signal that “here’s money to be made,” “here are your new customers,” “right here is more time that you could spend on other things.”

The piles are in themselves promises that an easier workday is possible.

Up and away!

You want your business to move forward in a desired direction, towards your vision. If you’re not running a business, you may want progress in the project that you are responsible for, or perhaps in you career.

Every business is the sum of all of its detailed parts. If the business is to progress, every single part it consists of also has to progress. When the to-do tasks, and the reference material are hidden in piles, they don’t progress, they are standing still, but if they’re instead kept in the specific and pre-determined spot where you have chosen to deal with them in, they’ll contribute to the business’ progression. You’ve decided what the next step will be, you’ve stored away papers in the place where you can quickly and easily find them when you need them on the go, you’ve placed the brilliant ideas in your bank of ideas, where they are maturing, awaiting the exact right time for you to put them into practice without risk of cooling or running out of steam. Every thing is in exactly the right place. No unnecessarily ballast is weighing on your shoulders.

So, unleash all the power locked up in the piles!

Do this

  1. Choose the pile that is the most tempting to you.
  2. Pick up the first sheet of paper.
  3. Ask yourself; are there any “next steps” with this sheet of paper, or with the information this sheet contains?
  4. Write down the next step as a to-do task in the one and only place where you collect your to-do tasks. (If there’s no next step, don’t write down anything, and proceed to step 5 instead).
  5. Also ask yourself; will I have any use for this sheet of paper or this information at some point in the future?
  6. If the answer is “yes, at a certain later date” (on Monday, next week, later this month, next year, et c), add the sheet of paper to the folder in your tickler file that represents the time when you’ll need the paper.
  7. If the answer is “yes, but I do not know when,” put the paper in your system for physical reference material, or write down the information you’ll need and store it in your system for digital reference materials, so that you’ll easily
  8. find it whenever you need it.
  9. If the answer is “No, I doubt it,” throw the paper in the trash.
  10. Continue repeating this process with the next page and the next and the next, until the pile is gone.

As soon as you get an e-mail, a letter, a phone call, a phone note from a colleague or stuff like that, repeat steps 3-8. This helps you avoid piles, your “office processes” run smoother and you’ll run the business towards the direction you’re striving for a lot easier.

How do you do it?

What’s your smartest trick to getting rid of your piles, or perhaps to prevent the piles from piling up in the first place?

You are more than welcome to leave a comment below.


Philip Allen

Philip Allen writes:

#1 - 2010-04-03, 19:51

I like this. That is exactly the way to think about piles. Right now I have a lot of them as we just moved offices, and I had to rapidly go through 10 years of my predecessor’s files. I grabbed the things that looked like they might be important, and now I have SEVERAL large piles of documents to go through.

Among those things are some key business dealings, some good ideas, and some contacts that may have languished and could benefit from a fresh touch.

Great thoughts!

David Stiernholm

David Stiernholm writes:

#2 - 2010-04-07, 17:21

Philip: Thanks, I’m happy to hear that you share my view of piles. Ten years of files sounds like a giant project to go through. Imagine the relief when you are done!


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