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You can get organized.

You Can Get Organized

Pictures this workplace: piles of papers teetering on every surface; heaps of books and magazines; precious time evaporating in search of that elusive quote or statistic.

Many communication professionals work in environments such as the one described above. And often they staunchly defend their "creative chaos"-despite frustration, lost hours, and possibly a lowered impact for their final products.

Sound familiar? If your environment is not as easy to work in as it could be, you may be suffering from fear of filing.

Fear of filing includes many smaller fears, such as fear of not knowing how to organize files; fear of setting up an elaborate system but still not being able to find things; and fear of pulling papers out of files and then not knowing where to replace them.

But it also usually includes one very powerful fear: the fear that being well-organized inhibits creativity; that order somehow imprisons the playful, child-like spirit we need to "be creative."

The child within each of us still remembers that when we were growing up, our creativity often was inhibited by our parents telling us to stop making a mess, clean up our rooms, be quiet and orderly. No wonder we came to associate order with inhibition, and chaos with freedom and creativity.

But now we need to be able to integrate the qualities of the child with the abilities of the adult. As professionals, most of us already do this when we write. To generate ideas and first drafts, we have learned to quiet the critical adult part of our minds and call upon "the inner child." Then, to edit, cut and rewrite, we call on the judgments of our adult self.

In a similar way, overcoming fear of filing requires a basic recognition that order can enhance our productivity without extinguishing our creativity. We can let ourselves have an orderly work environment as long as we give ourselves that permission--without self-punishment or guilt--and we won't resist the task of re-ordering it again.

Even with the realization that order and creativity can exist hand in hand, many people still don't know how to start getting better organized. However, help is here--thanks to a client I once had. She swore that filing something in a file drawer was like dropping it into a black hole. She either forgot it had ever existed, or she remembered the item but could never find it again. To compensate, everything had to be out where she could see it: She wallpapered her workplace in bulletin boards and had more desktop file-holders than your average stationery store.

I developed the following filing system for her-which was so effective I began to use if myself. Since then I've shared it with many other creative people, always to favorable reactions.

This system is easy to set up and easy to use. The heart of the system consists of just six folders: Action Files that you refer to daily as you act on various projects. The system works well alone and even better in conjunction with a time-management book and some back-up files for reference and research.

In the following description, I have mixed examples from the professional and the personal arenas of life into one set of files. You might want to have a separate set of Action Files--one at the office and the other at home--for each of these arenas.

How to Organize and Use Your Action Files

1. Set up six file folders and keep them handy in a desktop file holder or in hanging "hot files" near your principal work area.

2. Here are the label and contents for each folder:

PENDING--Items on which you cannot act until someone else acts or until some future date arrives. Examples: memo or letter awaiting response, concert tickets for next month, copy of photo order that is now at lab, birthday card for friend's surprise party 10 days from now.

TODAY--Papers relating to items on your to-do list for today. Examples: memo or letter to be answered by 5:30 p.m. mail, draft of brochure copy to rewrite, concert tickets for tonight (transfer immediately to wallet), article to read for 3 p.m. meeting, copy of bill you plan to discuss with your printer by telephone.

THIS WEEK--Papers relating to items on your schedule for the rest of the week, similar to TODAY items but less urgent.

NEXT WEEK--Papers relating to items you plan to act on next week.

MID-RANGE--Papers relating to items you plan to act on in one to three months--those projects you think about in terms of "When I have more time, the first thing I'll do is...."

Examples: business card of someone you'd like to lunch with in a month or so, and for a desktop-publishing teacher you want to hire in the near future, flyer for a newsletter you want to consider subscribing to.

LONG-RANGE--Similar to MID-RANGE items, but projected for action in a three-to-six-month time-frame--those "Someday I'd like to..." projects. Examples: article on how to send your copy by modern directly to your typesetter, friend's letter describing a vacation spot you'd like to visit next season, flyer on a photographer you may use for next year's annual report.

3. In your time-book or your daily list for next Monday morning, write "Review 4 folders + 7." This will remind you to look quickly through PENDING, TODAY, THIS WEEK and NEXT WEEK. If appropriate, reclassify an item into another folder. Some items will move forward in time, some backward; completed items will move out of the six Action Files altogether and into back-up files. The "+ 7" is a reminder to write down the same instruction on your schedule for next Monday morning.

For example, as you look through your PENDING folder, you see a copy of an article that was waiting for your supervisor's input. But now the original of that article with the director's comments has been returned to your in-basket. So you pull the back-up copy and toss it or file it in, say, a "Drafts" file, and put the original for rewrite into your TODAY or THIS WEEK folder (depending on your deadline for that piece and your other priorities).

If your time-book has space for hourly appointments, block out time on Monday from, say, 9 to 9:15 a.m. for this review of your PENDING through NEXT WEEK files. Make a firm appointment with yourself. In the beginning, urge yourself to move speedily through the review process. Don't worry about getting the papers into the "right" folder, as you'll be reviewing the files so regularly, you'll have plenty of chances to reclassify things. The more you use your Action Files, the less time you'll need for this review and reclassification. Only after you've gone through the first four Action Files should you cross off Monday's appointment and write it in for next week. That way, if you're distracted by a phone-call or visitor while reviewing your folders, your note is still there to remind you to finish.

4. In your time-book or on your list for this coming Wednesday morning, write "Rev. WK + 7." This reminds you to look through your THIS WEEK folder on Wednesday, transferring things to TODAY or NEXT WEEK, or leaving them where they are. When done, write the same memo on next Wednesday's to-do list. When your workload is light or you are concentrating on just one or who major projects, you may want to omit this step.

5. It's helpful to review your TODAY and THIS WEEK files on Friday mornings, as you wind up your week, just be sure you haven't overlooked anything critical. Make a "Rev. TOD + WK + 7" note on Friday's schedule to remind yourself.

6. Every month, write "Rev. MID & LONG + 30" to remind you to review/ reclassify items in those two files.

7. Back up your Action Files with whatever reference and research files you feel you need. Make notes on papers filed in your Action folders about where to find relevant back-up material.

Example: In your NEXT WEEK folder is a draft of an article for the employee newsletter on the value of the company's benefits plan, with this Post-It note: The handbook itself is filed in a hanging file inside a file drawer, under a section headed "Employee Info."

8. In setting up back-up files, keep your categories very general. Making too many/too specific folders is the most common mistake people make when they design file systems. Ask yourself, "What is this piece of paper about in the most general sense?"

Example: Instead of "Employee Handbook," "Using Company Cars," "Emergency Procedures," "Programming the Telephone," "Memos from Personnel, 1988," and so on, all such information can be filed in the "Employee Info" file. You can always make more categories later if you find you need them; usually you won't.

9. In addition to Post-Its on the papers in your Action Files, you can use your time-book or calendar to remind yourself where certain items are.

Examples: Tickets to a play seven weeks away are in your PENDING file; in the month-at-a-glance section of your book or calendar, on the date of play, you write "King Lear at View Theatre, tix in PND." Or, six months from now you want to follow up on a survey you read about, designed to measure the effectiveness of video news release; in the monthly section, on the page for that (future) month, you write "Results of VNR survey due; see article in 'Video' file."

As you get used to your Action Files, you'll need fewer of such reminders; for instance, you'll know that letters awaiting responses are always in PENDING or that items pertaining to projects a year away are always in LONG TERM.

That's all there is to it. So why let fear of filing hamper your productivity? Try this simple system, adapt it in any way that works best for you, and clobber that clutter for good.
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Reeves, Ann
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 1989
Words:1664
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