It is when we place something somewhere ”temporarily” that our good structure begins to deteriorate. Every document (be it digital or physical) may have its rightful place somewhere in our folder structure (of which we are well aware), but when we save or place it ”here for now”, in a more easily accessible place, ”temporarily”, we are treading on thin ice.
The schedule was rearranged — again
We do not think there is any point to saving the document where it is actually supposed to be since we expect to continue working on it in just a few minutes anyway. But, once again we were wrong about our planning and what we would be doing next. The plan we had made for the day went out the window as something more urgent landed on our desk. We will not have time to continue working on the material today after all, and we leave it where it is for now — ”temporarily”.
Just in case
But for how long? Well, the longer we have left it there, the higher the probability of just leaving it there even longer becomes. After a few days and many finished tasks and meetings later, the memory of why we placed the document where we last left it has faded. Did I save it there so that it would be close at hand, or was it because I needed to remember to do something special with it? And if so, what?
We dare neither delete nor move the document, because what if we miss doing what we had in mind when saving it there in the first place? Better leave it where it is. For now. Temporarily.
Attempting to focus on too much at a time
So, there it remains in some easily accessible place, which probably means that we catch a glimpse of it (after all, that is what putting something where it is ”easily accessible” should) when we are looking for a document we need at the moment. We spot what we have set aside ”temporarily” and remember what it contains, what we were doing with it last time we worked on it, what needs to be done next et c, and before we know it, we have been completely distracted from what we were doing and all the focus we just had, has vanished.
Clutter only brings confusion
One of the benefits of having good structure and being organized is that it becomes easier to focus on doing the task that has the highest priority at the moment — since we are then less likely to spot distracting and irrelevant documents or items that might bring us off course. Even if one might argue that it cannot be that big of a deal if you put one or a few things within your field of view, insisting that it is just temporary, this disorder, however slight, will only create more disarray. At least that was the conclusion drawn from a study made in the Dutch city Groningen which I often quote. What I am trying to say is that if we begin populating a digital or physical surface which we often lay our eyes on with items not actually belonging in it, the number of items easily increases, they will contest for our focus and we will inevitably be distracted.
It’s worth an extra second or two
Another risky aspect of putting something somewhere ”temporarily” is that the place often tends to be a new and seemingly adequate location. At that moment it might be obvious where we have placed the document, but later, when we are looking for it where it was supposed to be and cannot find it, we might have to do considerable guesswork before finally locating it. Sure, if you search for it you will perhaps locate it faster, but you might need to search the entire computer in order to find it.
If you want to, be vigilant when you catch yourself thinking ”I’ll just put it here for now, only temporarily” in the next week ahead. Stop yourself before putting or saving it in a perhaps easy, but wrong, location, and make that extra little bit of effort to place it where it is supposed to be. It is actually extra important that you put things where they are supposed to be when you are feeling really stressed, out of breath and out of time, because this is when the risk of haphazardly choosing a spot that might be hard to recall and find later on, increases.
You can also ensure that it is easy to put away the material where it is supposed to be in the first place. A few questions you might ask yourself are:
- Could you create a shortcut to the proper folder?
- Are you going to use the search function more often to locate and open the right folder faster, since it is deeply embedded in the folder structure?
- Could you name the document more clearly, so that it becomes easier to find?
- If the ”right location” is so cumbersome to find and save things in that you tend to save items elsewhere ”temporarily” quite often, then is it really the optimal location?
Less looking, more concentration
If you save what you do not currently need in the proper, designated places instead of just putting it wherever you happen to stand, you will find what you need with greater ease and speed. Since you can now to a greater extent trust that you will find what you are searching for in the right location, this location will become more evident and you will save the documents that belong there with greater ease, perhaps even automatically. You will have less things laying about distracting you, and you will maintain focused on what you are doing right now.
What is your way?
How have you made it easier to save documents in the right location straight off the bat? Do you have some clever trick? Plase share in a comment below.