Where did I put that....?

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This week I was helping a colleague who is new in their role with a specific system. We were working through the system and we needed to use a reference document that I had sent them. They turned to the filing cabinet and grabbed it straight away. I don't think they know how impressive that was (I'll make sure I tell them this week). A few weeks into a new job and this person could grab something he would need fairly frequently instantly.

Being able to do that doesn't necessarily come naturally and as we move to leadership or management positions I don't think we are really taught how to organize our workflow to best work for us.

A few weeks ago I wasn't such a great example. I bumped into someone who I needed to show a document to. This document had been on my desk - in the 'to do this week' pile. It even had a post-it-note on it!  I had carried it with me earlier that day to a meeting I was hoping to catch them at. They kindly gave up some time and came to my office to review it. Well, where was it? Nope! Nowhere to be seen.

Annoying! Frustrating! Embarrassing! Time wasting! Plus I still haven't found it!!

A few years ago I came across this book and the process suggested helped me turn aroundthe chaos when I was at an overwhelmed point shortly after starting a new job. In this book, Cyril Peupion opens chapter one letting you know that a survey by the business magazine Fast Company, noted that 'the average...worker spends six weeks a year looking for information they already have'.

How much time do you spend looking for that email or that document?

You need that time back. I need that time back.

Cyril's first chapter describes a system for organizing both your hard and soft files. It is simple, clearly explained and it's one of those books that strongly encourages you to be active - and do the do.

He splits into hard files and soft files. I'm just talking hard files today - let's address the paper first. Cyril gives you a 3 step process for sorting and filing (and yes, we should have less paper).

Step 1 - Think
Step 2 - Sweat
Step 3 - Organise

Going through all three is a time commitment. Working that in and sticking with it, is going to pay off for you in the long term.

Step 1 - Think

Thinking needs you to take a bit of time to think about your role and the many hats (and sub hats) that role has. You need to write these down and they need to be meaningful to you - not what your boss or colleague tells you - you know your job and it's your filling system.

In the book there is an example of a sales person - in my copy of the book there are scribbled notes from my time as a charge nurse. One hat for me in that role was staff management - with sub hats of performance management, recruitment and leave management. It's important that these make sense and are meaningful to you.

Take some time, think about the hats you wear in your role and create your categories - the backbone of your filling system. This part works for the soft files as well as the hard files so it's worth taking the time and being honest.

If you are new to your role those categories and filing systems may change as you learn and develop in that role. Starting a new role shouldn't put you off creating your new filing system - your hats will change and your old system won't be the right fit for the new job. You might need advice and suggestions for those hats when you start.

Step 2 - Sweat

Cyril has a few pointers before you launch into reviewing every piece of paper into your new filing system. You need to be ruthless in order to see the wood for the trees.
Ask yourself and be honest (think of those 6 weeks)

  • Do I need it?
  • When was the last time I used it?
  • What is the worse thing that can happen if I throw it out?
  • Can I easily find it somewhere else?

Then you are off. Every piece of paper has to be gone through, follow the questions and then sort into the filing system. The book explains the use of everyday/working files, library files and archive files. Certainly there are some documents that we have to keep for legal reason - do they need to be kept in your office?

Step 3 - Organise

There is a great line in the book - 'your desk has not been designed to be your task management system'.

I tested out a daily planning system recently and it kind of worked for a bit then backfired and my desk looked just like that with post it notes everywhere. Not helpful and I'm sure it leads to that document for review disappearing. On a sideline though, aren't you glad I test these things before sharing them with you?

Your working environment is important. I don't think one style suits everyone - you need to be aware of what is going to work best for you and be alert to what can distract and frustrate you.
I've tried to sum up a whole section of a book in a short post for you - hoping to tempt you into looking into how you can find more time in your week. In a world where so much can be thrust upon you and you have no choice or control - how you organise your files and your environment is a first step in having some control and something you have total control over.

The book is a worthwhile purchase if you wanted. There are a few links below for you - including the Work Smarter, Live Better website which has resources and free downloads for you.