1. Having a separate pile for each action item. I believe this is a common mistake. The thinking is: if it’s not within my sight, I will forget to do it, right? Trust me, I understand this thinking, since I am very visual myself. But, there is no way to prioritize and no surface area available for working.
2. Using the paper itself as a reminder to do something. When too many things get piled up, important items end up hidden under the clutter. My strategy on this is determined by timing. If the action I need to take is right away, it’s OK to use the paper as a reminder (even then, they should be categorized). If the action is not due until later, it goes into the Action File (see below).
3. Saving paper copies of information that can be easily retrieved via the internet. This one requires a change of thinking from the pre-digital age. So, when I am tempted to save an article I might find useful, I ask myself, “could I easily find this information on the internet?” If the answer is yes, there is no need to keep a hard copy.
4. Not having a specific place for a category of paperwork. This could be caused by change in circumstances, like a new project you’re managing. If your to-do bin is piled high, it’s time for a re-think.
5. The “someday” stack. Tempting, I know. But, if you haven’t taken care of something is 6 months, how likely are you to ever work on it?
Solution. You need a to-do list, a calendar, and a place to put your supporting paperwork (your Action File). Then, ask yourself, “What is the next action for this project?”
Calendar Items: these are things to do that are date-specific. Let’s say you have to call your dentist in December for an appointment in February. You write “call dentist” on your calendar somewhere in December. If you have paperwork to go with it, you file it in your action file. The calendar note is what reminds you, not the paper. This means that you don’t have to go through your action file regularly to see what to do; the calendar reminds you.
To-Do Items: these are things that you need to do that are not date-specific. That would be things like the name of a book you want to buy to learn about marketing. Once again, if you have supporting paperwork, it goes into the action file. Be sure to keep your to-do list in a spot that is easy to use, and matches your work style. It can be tracked on your computer, on paper or on a white board. Then, train yourself to check it regularly.
Oh, and if you need help setting up this system, call me!