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27 Apr

Beware of ”temporarily”

Datum: 2016-04-27 15:04

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.

Do this
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.