When it comes to organizing an office for maximum efficiency, most people don’t need a full time secretary, 20 filing cabinets, and a full fleet of carrier pigeons, and yet, so many of us know we need to get more organized but neglect to actually get more organized. A big reason people put off getting organized is because of the perceived complexity of the task, but I promise you that getting your office into working shape with these essential office organizers won’t need to take a huge financial investment or take weeks of your time.
In “Getting things done”- a cult classic and one of the premier books on productivity, David Allen gives us some simple and easy to use tips to make the most of your organization, and get excellent results with a simple to implement and rewarding system known simply as “Getting things done” or GTD. Read the article below for a short summary of everything you need and how to use it.
1. In tray
A simple vertical or horizontal in/out tray is quite possibly the most important item at your disposal when it comes to getting your office organized and running at optimum efficiency. An in tray serves a simple, yet vital purpose, as it lets you know what items still need to be taken care of and it gives you a reliable and accurate estimate as to how much you actually have that you need to get done.
Every little paper that needs to be filed, every sticky note reminder, every letter that you have been meaning to write for weeks goes into the in tray, and your job is to get through the in tray each and every single day. Everything in your in tray should either: get done right now, scheduled on your calendar, placed in a projects folder, placed into a reference folder, or placed into a someday maybe folder, or thrown away.
This simple item is drastically important because it funnels everything that needs to be done into one easily accessible area that you can devote the majority of your daily attention to, but in order for it to truly work, you have to be diligent enough not to allow items to build up and overflow; keep your in tray manageable.
The daily planner/monthly calendar is perhaps one of the most underutilized and misused office items in existence. So many people use their calendar as a reminder of every single thing they need to get done in a day, and while it is useful in remembering the things that need to get done, a calendar that is filled beyond capacity with your daily to do lists usually leads to nothing but overwhelm and procrastination.
The calendar is sacred ground, and as such, when something gets written down on your daily calendar, it should be treated like a promise. The calendar can help us schedule important events in the future, or schedule times for us to work on projects or review reference materials, and it can also let us know what tasks we have to get done each day.
To use the calendar properly you have to use it in the same manner as you go through your in tray. Imagine you find a note telling you to get your car fixed; you know you need to get 3 separate estimates but you don’t have the time to find 3 places and call them, so, on the calendar you write a note for tomorrow to find 3 auto repair shops and get 3 estimates.
Simply put, the calendar can free you from the gnawing feeling that you have so much to do, and it helps to free your mind to focus on getting the day’s tasks done, rather than trying to remember each task you need to be doing.
3. Project folders
Project folders contain reference materials for any task that is complex, meaning that it will take numerous steps and likely take planning and more than a week to accomplish. Projects could be almost anything, from getting a team together for a new division that just opened up at work, to planning a birthday party for one of your co-workers.
To use the project folder system, you just need enough folders to contain all of your projects and you can label each folder accordingly. Make sure to file all of the materials that you need in order to progress to the next step of your project and schedule a time on your calendar to complete the next step.
For example: to plan a birthday party there could be multiple steps in the project that need to be completed; first, you need to send out emails to all of your co-workers asking who would be willing to join and you need to figure out a day that is best for everyone; next, you need to delegate tasks, plan the party events, and get a final headcount; lastly, you need to pool money together, get supplies, and wrap up last minute details.
4. Reference folders
Reference folders won’t look any different than your project folders, but they serve a totally different purpose. While project folders are active, frequently used, and are there for a specific purpose, reference folders simply store items that will or might need to be used at a later time.
Things like tax information, receipts, emails that may need to be recalled, or just a simple thank you note from a customer can all be saved as reference materials. Anything that can’t be completed immediately, or anything that is not an active project can either be thrown away, filed for reference, or placed into a someday/maybe folder.
5. Someday/maybe folders
A someday or maybe folder is simply a folder that stores ideas that you might be interested in pursuing someday. Maybe one day you have an idea that someday you would like to open a new office branch in a different city; you can jot down a few notes and place the information in a someday folder, and if in a year it still seems like a good idea, maybe you should start pursuing it as an active project.
6. Filing cabinet or drawers for filing
With all the folders that you will be accumulating with your new filing system, you will need either a nice filing cabinet, or a drawer capable of holding folders, or even some sort of standing folder system. It is best to organize the folders into subsections when possible, so group reference materials together and also group your active project folders together as well.
With nothing more than an in tray, a stack of folders, a pen, and a filing cabinet, you can easily organize your entire office and streamline your efficiency almost instantly. To be quite honest, the more complex your filing system becomes, the harder it will be to figure out where certain items are, and the longer it will take to implement into actual practice. When you are trying to organize an office, simple systems are almost always more effective than complex ones.
Now that you understand the GTD system, try it out for yourself and see what you think. What do you currently use in your own office system, and do you have any questions? Feel free to leave a comment below and join the conversation, you might just learn something, and if you know someone that could benefit from this post make sure to share it with them.