No more ”to-be-sorted”-pile | David Stiernholm

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27 Oct

No more ”to-be-sorted”-pile


Datum: 2022-10-27 08:00
Three piles of paper; one short, one of medium height and one tall, in a white room.

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.

Do this

  1. 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.
  2. Check your cal­en­dar and find the first avail­able hour that you could reserve for deal­ing with all or part of the pile.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)

Laptop on a wooden kitchen island displaying the Youtube logo.

More like this?


If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.

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