Ruthless paperwork is the route to a clean desk. It’s a problem of small-scale decision-making, every piece of paper requires a decision and a final destination. Too often, papers fall prey to the procrastination syndrome: I’ll think about it tomorrow.
Ideally, mail and paperwork should be attended to for a few minutes every day. If the amount is small, three times a week may do. You don’t want papers to build up to the point where you look at it and you get discouraged. The easiest way to avoid that is to keep up to date.
Files can be kept in open piles on a desk or in folders, according to your style. If a clean visual environment is important to you, use boxes and folders as you RAFT. If you prefer a look of activity and busyness, paper piles may be the answer.
If you do keep stuff, keep it in a way so that it doesn’t jam up your life and you can find it again.
Use the RAFT template: refer it, act on it, file it or toss it.
- Refer it to the correct person, if you’re not the one to handle it.
- Act on it immediately. Items that can be dealt with easily, do now; David Allen’s two-minute rule.
- File it, if necessary. Eighty percent of filed papers are never looked at again. Make sure you really need it before you keep it.
- Toss out anything you no longer need. Don’t keep routine memos or anything that gives you information you already know or have. Record meeting information on your calendar, then toss the memo. We you receive document revisions, toss the orginals.
Several years ago, when new to a position, I had a conflict with another employee. By strict interpretation of our policies, I was right in my actions, but I managed it very poorly. Shortly after that, the other employee resigned. It was a lack of experience on my part. I was more interested in being right than resolving conflict.
One of the lessons you learn early in life, conflict happens. Not everyone will agree with you all the time, or even some of the time. To be successful in life, you need to know how to manage conflict.
I’m not so glib as to expect there is some magic “7–step” solution that will automatically eliminate all your conflict. There are areas of disagreement –say personal beliefs– that may never be resolved. Some past actions, that have deeply affected your life, could require a therapeutic approach to resolve.
However, much of the day-to-day conflict you face can be managed with deliberate and clear communication. If you find conflict is getting in the way of your accomplishing what needs doing, try these steps:
Explain the situation as you see it
Invariably, conflict is about perception and understanding. Start by telling the other party your understanding of the situation.
Describe how it is affecting performance
Tell them how this conflict affects what need to be accomplished.
Ask them to explain their point of view
This can be difficult, but let the other party explain their point of view.
You may find that these first three steps provide enough clarity to resolve the conflict. If not, move on the the next four steps.
Agree on the problem
Reach agreement on the problem. You need a common understanding to develop a workable solution.
Explore and discuss possible solutions
Work together to develop a solution to the conflict. Both parties will stick with a solution they have had a role in developing.
Agree on what each person will do to solve the problem
Make sure you walk away from the session with a clear understanding of which party is responsible for what action.
Set a date for follow-up
Don’t leave it hanging. Get together to make sure things are on track. If the conflict is of a complex nature, you may need several follow-up milestones.
In the case of individuals in conflict, this process can work one-on-one. In more complex conflicts, or where groups of people are involved, a third-party facilitator might be needed.
Take this Work/Life Balance quiz from the Canadian Mental Health Association. It will open in a new window. Once you have your results, come back here for some tips to help you manage the balance between work and life.
- Decide what is important. If you do not have a clear sense of your personal values, goals and priorities, you will not be able to determine which activities are important to furthering your life plan.
- Eliminate the unnecessary. Once you have a clear picture of your life plan, drop those things that do not move your goals forward. Learn to say no!
- Protect Your Goals and Priorities. Everyone will have an opinion as to how you should be living your life. Listening to opinions is fine, being dictated to is not. Live the life you want, not the one your parents or best friends or anyone else thinks you should be living.
- Don’t go it alone. Get the support of family and friends. Give your partner permission to remind you when things seem to be getting out of balance. Better yet, your partner should be involved in developing your life plan.
- Schedule brief breaks for yourself throughout the day. Your productivity and effectiveness will increase if you take short breaks every couple of hours. You will get more accomplished.
- At the end of each day, set your priorities for the following day. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have available.
- Only respond to email once or twice a day. Then, shut off your email program to avoid being distracted as messages come in.
- Make a distinction between work and the rest of your life. Protect your private time by turning off electronic communications. Don’t be available 24/7.
- Address concerns about deadlines and deliverables early. As soon as you see that a deadline is unrealistic, communicate your concern to your employer – don’t wait until the deadline passes.
- Take all of your allotted vacation time. Taking vacation allows you to come back to work refreshed and more productive.
- Learn to say no!
- Create a buffer between work and home. After work, take a brief walk, do a crossword puzzle, or listen to some music before beginning the evening’s routine.
- Decide what chores can be shared or let go. Determine which household chores are critical and which can be done by someone else. Let the rest go.
- Exercise. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time, you’ll feel more energized and refreshed.
- Create and implement a household budget. Start by setting aside some money from each pay cheque for the future.
- Make healthy food choices. Healthy eating will gives you and your family more energy.
- Pursue a hobby. Either with friends or family or for some quality time on your own.
- Learn to say no!
In Your Community
- Make choices. Social, community and volunteer obligations pull us in many directions. Choose the ones that are most fulfilling and learn to say ‘no’ to the rest.
- Manage expectations. Be clear at the outset about how much time or support you can contribute to community organizations or your children’s school events.
- Learn to say no!
Close your eyes and picture the Zen-like state of your desk in a paperless world. When you need data from the last quarter, you speak to your computer and a soothing voice responds with the information. When it’s time to pay the bills, you instruct your computer where the payments are to come from.
Now, look at the paper sitting on your desk, dressers, tables, shelves, filing cabinets, etc.
The ideal of a paperless office has been around for at least three decades. While individuals, such as Eric Mack, experiment with paperless solutions, or online services offer paperless solutions, paper usage has increased significantly.
In 2003, Canadians used a whopping 2, 867,442 tonnes of paper, compared with 1,198,100 tonnes two decades earlier. Source: CBC News
For whatever reason, you’re stuck working with paper. Here are some tips for managing your piles (paper, that is).
- Keep only the work at hand visible. If you’re working on the month-end report, have it in front of you. Other pending work should be stored in some form of filing system, which makes it easy to retrieve, but keeps it out of sight.
- Have a fixed time each day to process routine paperwork. There are regular systems that dump a daily amount of paper on our desks: mail, filing, circulating files, etc. Set aside a few minutes every day to make sure this paper dealt with and not left piling up on your desk.
- Keep large wastebasket and/or shredder near your work area. Some percentage of the paper you process can go straight to recycling or garbage: used envelopes, advertising brochures, last week’s cafeteria menu. Toss it immediately.
- Don’t use a bulletin board. It’s a burial ground. I have a bulletin board in my office, but I am ruthless about what gets pinned to it. If you can’t be consistently ruthless, don’t put one on the wall.
- Organize your stationery. If you have to keep blank stationery on hand, get some type of storage system. Not only does lose stationery add to the cluttered look, it ends up dog-eared, frayed and unusable.
- Get a notebook. Resist the urge to take notes on dozens of pieces of scrap paper, notepads and sticky notes. Find a notebook that works for you and keep it with you at all times. That way, not only will you have a single, neat source of all your notes, you’ll only have one place you have to look to find information.
It doesn’t look like paper is going away anytime soon. You will need to have systems to control your paper flow.