Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Desk Organization: ACTION and TICKLER File

I love organization. Simply Love it. No, wait... LOVE it!! But I have one area that I've struggled with forever trying to keep clean and organized. My desk. Yes, those who have read this blog for the last year or so know that I've blogged on it before, vowing to keep it clean and that by writing it on the world wide web I would be held accountable. Hmmm... it's a bit better, but I'm not there yet. 

I'm sure 99% of this is due to my habits when I'm actually at the desk itself. I come here to create... create pictures, create blog posts, create ideas, etc. And somehow, I never leave any time to actually organize and clean the desk. When I'm in that creative mode, I fill every second until I must leave it all, thereby doing what I want to do, not necessarily what I need to do.

But I want an organized desk! In fact, I'm desperate for it! I know I'll be even more creative and productive when I'm not surrounded by clutter - which drives me crazy, by the way. My family would say it actually makes me irritable. Oh, I've felt doomed to live like this forever! But I know there must be a solution out there, somewhere...

My newest endeavor? An ACTION and TICKLER File...

It's really two different kinds of files that I've combined into one basket on my desk - all for easy reference. Keep in mind this is not the same as my regular files which are in drawers below. This is for getting into several times a day, kind of a stopping off point for all that paperwork that clutters my desk. This is where I'm beginning because the paperwork really is the main culprit. 

You're probably thinking "Girlfriend, you're going to file that stuff twice now! Are you crazy?" Well, if it gets me to keep papers from becoming piles on my desk, I guess so. And if I end up looking at that paper and saying to myself "Just file it now", then hey... the battle's won, right? Here's two reasons why I really think this might work: 

1) it's pretty  
2) it fits how I work 

I like pretty. I like pretty almost as much as organizing. So, I'm thinking this might keep me motivated. And second, the key for this desk organization method to work is if it fits how I'm already doing things when working at my desk! Any method I establish must take into account how I handle papers naturally. 

This is huge. I'm old enough that I'm not likely going to change certain habits enough to break out of this cycle without it meeting those habits half way. So if I tend to be in a hurry and just drop a paper on my desk while rushing off to cook dinner, I need an easy place right on my desk to drop that paper. I've tried just a paper basket, but then the papers get all mixed up and I have to go through each one just to find what I'm looking for. However, I naturally tend to make messy piles of various things - a pile of recipes, a pile of bills, a pile of magazine articles,etc. With the ACTION file, it's quick and easy for sorting and dropping.

Let me break down the ACTION file for you. The lovely sunflower folders in front have different labels:

• Act
• File
• Pay
• Respond
• Use
• Copy 

Other ideas you could put on these files might be:

• Complete
• Wait
• Decide
• Send
• Do
• Read

It's up to you. If I added a "send" file, my letters would never make it to the mailbox. I know myself pretty well. I naturally put them in my purse, so I'm not going to change what I already do since it works fine for me. And to me, some of these seem redundant, so I don't use them, but use what works for you. Think about how your brain thinks and how you work at your desk. 

Next, I plan to schedule a regular day to go through my ACTION file and make sure it's cleaned out weekly. This is the new habit I must initiate. 

Now let's talk about the TICKLER file... 

What is a TICKLER file? According to Google, it's a collection of date-labeled file folders organized in a way that allows time-sensitive documents to be filed according to the future date on which each document needs action. Mine are the manilla colored files in the back of the basket. There are 12 monthly files (or rather files that act as dividers) and 31 daily folders. I actually used the kind of folders that are closed on the sides so that items don't fall out, but you could use regular manilla files. Each file gets a number on it to correspond with the day of the month. 

How do you set it up and how does it work? Whatever the month is, that file acts as a divider and goes in front. Then all the days of the month come behind it (in order, of course), and behind these comes the rest of the months. On the first (file #1), when the day arrives, you look in your file to see what you placed in there to do that day. When the day is over, move the file behind the divider for the next month (in this case, it went behind March because it's February right now). Each day, you go to the next file that is now in front, just behind the monthly divider, and check what you have in there that needs to be done that day. When the day is over, move it behind the next month, keeping them in order. 

Can you give me an example? Anytime something comes across your desk that will need action on a specific day or sometime in the future, choose the date you want to view it and put it in that daily file. If it's three months from now, just add it to that monthly file. For example, I need a registration paper on June 23rd for a conference but it's mid February right now; I'm doomed to loose it if I don't have a plan. So I file the registration paper in the June file. Then when May 24th arrives and I've moved the 23rd file behind June, I can add that paper to the 23rd file or better yet, wait until June first arrives and check for any papers that have accumulated in the June file and sort them into the various dates for that month. Does this make sense?

I had forgotten that I actually used a TICKLER file when I worked at an insurance office years and years ago. And it was wonderfully helpful. I just wish I had thought of using this at home sooner; it came to mind when browsing for desk organization ideas and I happened upon Cathy Anderson's site Just Organize Your Stuff. (And to the reader who reminded me a few months ago about her filing system - Thank you!!). You can download or purchase her pre-made filing systems or you can make your own. 

Well, now that I've got that done, I'm off to purge and reorganize my regular files. Ughh! But it will feel so good when it's done! I've got some more ideas, so hopefully a few posts will follow.

Do you use an ACTION or TICKLER file? Please tell us how it works for you!


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