Updated: Jun 12
So… here’s a question for you: What is the current state of your desktop? And I don’t mean your computer desktop, I’m talking about the real life solid place where you do your work, the top surface of your desk. Whether you work away from home, at home, or have a home office for your own affairs, what does your desktop look like-right now? If it’s totally clear of clutter, then you don’t even need to finish reading, unless you want to. But if you’re like most people, your desk can leave a little to be desired in terms of neatness and organization.
And as for the three folders in the title of this blog post? Yes! There really are 3 folders you can use to contain nearly all of the paper that normally clutters desks (and many other surfaces in homes). So as not to keep you in suspense any longer, here they are:
THE FIRST FOLDER: This one is simply labeled “TO DO”. It is where everything goes that has not been touched or dealt with at all yet. Some of the papers to put into this folder would be lists, cards that need addressed and sent, receipts before logging them into your budget, reminders of any sort, business cards, sticky notes, slips of paper, or even notes on napkins—anything and everything that has not been taken care of yet, but is on your desk. Alright, now you can go ahead and gather up everything in your sight that fits into this category and put it into your TO DO folder.
Now you’re ready for FOLDER NUMBER TWO: This one can be labeled “IN PROGRESS”, “PENDING” or “ACTIVE”. It will contain (you guessed it) things that you’ve taken some kind of action on, but that are not yet completed. This could include papers such as unfinished projects, items that need someone else to read or sign, or otherwise do something in order for it to move on, plans that are not yet solidified, cards that you have written a note in but still need an address or stamps, anything you have delegated but are waiting to make sure it was finished, and all papers that you wouldn’t want to lose track of because there is something else you need to do before filing. You can pause here if you want to gather these types of papers from your desk and place them in a folder labeled with your choice of title from above.
Now on to THE THIRD FOLDER: This one has a simple and straightforward title, but feel free to change it if you’d like. I call mine “TO FILE”. This one will contain papers that are headed to a final resting place. These are things you no longer need on your desktop but may need for future reference, receipts that have already been entered and/or reconciled with your accounts, coupons on their way to your coupon pouch or purse to use at the store, bank statements, and just anything and everything (paper wise) that you need to save. NOTE: There will be quite a few items from the first and second folders that never need to make it into this one. You can get rid of papers that you don’t need to save for any reason, and they can be filed in the trash or shredder. At this point, if in doubt, put it in your TO FILE folder and think through it later, when ready to file the papers away. Ok, now, you know the routine. You can gather all the papers that are remaining on your desk and make sure they are ready to be either filed or tossed.
There now, I promise that nearly all your paper clutter will be able to go in one of these three folders or in the trash. If you feel like you have more papers than what will comfortably fit into these three categories, I will give you 3 more that you can add to the mix, but only if you really want to. The extra three are not imperative. They would be “THINGS TO READ” (articles or clippings that you haven’t yet taken time to read, and don’t want cluttering your TO DO folder while you are getting to it). Title ideas for the next folder could be “TO DECIDE” or “MAYBE” (for ideas of any sort, and other things you’re not sure of yet). And as for the last folder, you may want to call it “DREAMS”, or “WISH LIST”. It can hold papers you’re not currently using but may want sometime soon or in the future, such as upcoming projects, dreams, vacation ideas, or business thoughts.
Now for a few hints on getting the most out of your folder system:
· These main three folders will be of the most value to you if you use them daily, or every time you are at your desk. So, if you find that you are forgetting to use them, try putting a sticky note on the outsides, list on it the days of the month, and cross off each day that you have “done your folders”.
· You may also find it helpful to track where you are on each of the action items in folder #2. This is easily done by using a sticky note on each paper that tells you the next action that needs to be taken. Examples are 1) writing “get address from Laura” on a note attached to an item that can’t be mailed until the address is obtained. 2) On a reminder to get yourself new glasses, the first action may be “call Dr. Miller's office for appointment in April".
· If you come across something that can be done in less than 2-5 minutes and you won’t get distracted by doing it right now – then do it right now and throw away the reminder. This will save time and effort later.
I must say that these three folders have made a huge difference in our home office. The temptation to leave something lay here or there in plain sight will diminish as you become more confident that your things won’t be lost somewhere in the house or office. And when you don’t feel the need to lay things out (all over the place) as reminders, you are on your way to clear and clutter-free surfaces, not only at your desk, but all over your home.
This system can be adapted to other rooms of the house as you get better and better at it. Anywhere you find yourself leaving paper clutter either on your way in or out, can be the beginning of a successful landing zone. As with all systems, you may need to start over with small changes in the system multiple times. No system will work perfectly for your family or office until you work with it and personalize it, tweaking it to just the right fit. Don't give up, just keep trying.