Do you have a ”to-be-sorted”-pile? You know, one of those piles that lie there on your desk ”for now” and which you intend to deal with soon, but which has actually been lying there untouched for quite a while?
Perhaps you have stowed it away in your bookshelf somewhere so that you do not have to see it, but even if you have your back towards it when working, you can feel its presence and know that it is there just waiting to be dealt with.
Or, perhaps you forget all about it as soon as you turn the other way, but are painfully reminded that it exists and still needs to be dealt with every time you turn around?
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
You are not alone
If you have no piles whatsoever, then this tip will be of no use to you. But if you are like many people I meet in my work in that you have paper piles, I want to share with you how you can avoid having to ”sort”; the verb that makes you avoid processing the pile in the first place.
Because it does feel reluctant to get started with processing it, doesn’t it? If we are constantly reminded that we still have not dealt with it, our bad conscience grows and at least to me, few things make me as fatigued as feeling weighed down by undone tasks such as this.
Rid yourself of the burden
It is really easy to postpone going through the pile and when it comes to these types of ”leavens”, a couple of universal tricks to getting started are to:
- divide it into smaller steps, or to
- reserve a specific time when you will deal with whatever you have postponed
The point of getting rid of the pile is partially that we no longer have to see it and get distracted by it, and partly that we no longer need to we weighed down by the ”I should leave done this a long time ago”-burden.
So, let’s do something about the matter right away, even if you do not have time to sort through it. You do not need to do that now anyway.
- Determine if you, when you go through the pile some other day, will be able to go through the entire pile at once or if you would rather deal with small portions of it at a time. If you are unable to determine this, allow me to make the call for you and opt for the second alternative.
- Check your calendar and find the first available hour that you could reserve for dealing with all or part of the pile.
- Schedule a meeting with yourself on this particular time and call it either ”Sorting the pile” or something more cryptical if you do not want your colleagues to know why you are unavailable for meetings during this particular time.
- So, you have now decided when you will deal with the ”to-be-sorted”-pile. It is no longer up in the air waiting for you to make a call. You no longer have to feel discouraged due to not having dealt with the matter sooner, because you have now determined when you will go through it, so it will get processed for certain now. But, you want to get rid of the pile too.
- If you have a tickler file, which is like a time-machine for papers that makes use of a hanging-file system, you can place either the whole or a portion of the pile (5 cm?) in the folder representing the day you made the appointment with yourself to do the sorting. If you do not use a tickler file, portion out the pile into a couple of C4-envelopes and write the date you intend to sort it on the first envelope. Write ”Sort pile, part 2”, ”… part 3” et cetera on the remaining envelopes if you currently do not know when you will be able to deal with the remaining parts of the pile. Place the envelopes in a pile (!), but in a location where you do not see them and hence are not constantly reminded that you need to deal with them.
- To make things extra clear to yourself, make a note of where you have placed the first envelope as you are scheduling the appointment with yourself; did you put it in your tickler file folder or where you placed the remaining envelopes?
Still there but out of sight, means that it’s not a constant reminder
Sure, the pile has not diminished in any way, but you have made it clear when you will go through it and until that time you now no longer have to be constantly distracted by having the pile in sight. It is no longer in your face and you have defined a strategy of how to eventually get rid of it completely. You can almost sense the great feeling you will have once you are done with it, since it is already out of sight and hence also out of mind.
What is your way?
How do you make sure that things do not pile up in the first place? Please tell me.
(But are piles of paper on one’s desk really a problem? Yes, because a pile is not only a pile.)