My mother is one of the most productive people I know. She is 78 years old and still works full-time as the personal assistant to the CEO of a bank. (I come from great genes-it makes me very optimistic about my long-term future!) One of her secrets to productivity is what is often called "a tickler file." It used to be a popular organizational tool but eventually fell by the wayside. The tickler file is a reminder system based on the days of the month and months of the year. It simply consists of two sets of file folders: "1-31" and "January-December." It's time to bring that old system back.
Surveys show that people's stress levels are at an all-time high. A major source of that stress is information overload. Information arrives in five ways: on paper, electronically, via voice mail, through verbal messages, and as thoughts in your head.
Think of a 5-lane freeway. You are speeding down the highway when suddenly you see orange barrels-you know you're in for trouble. That's exactly what happens when you sit down at your desk and are overwhelmed with where to begin. Do you start with the e- mail? Most people do, but should you? The highest priority could be in the "In Box" you haven't looked at in days-or could it be the idea you had while taking a shower? You've got information overload and you need a way to cope with it.
Managing Information To conquer a stack of papers-permission slips, newsletters, report cards, bills, and articles to read-employ these five productive steps.
? Discard. I've spent lots of time promoting the power of throwing things away. Ask yourself, "What's the worst possible thing that would happen if I didn't have that or didn't do this?"
? Delegate. If you are not delegating some of your work, why not? The most productive people in the world are those who spend 80% of their time doing what only they can do and surrounding themselves with people whose talents are complementary to theirs.
? Do it now. Ask yourself, "Is taking care of this the best use of my time right now?"
? File for reference. These are things you want or need to keep for future reference. Develop or use a good filing system (like Taming the Paper Tiger, information below), so you can find items easily and quickly.
? File for follow-up. These are things you want or need to do. In the Paper Tiger software system, we place these items in Action Files so you can find them when it's time to take act on them. The task won't be forgotten because the Paper Tiger can print weekly reminders or you can put a simple note in the tickler file.
The Important Question No matter how information arrives, your first reaction is probably, "I have to take care of this now." If you are serious about increasing your productivity and prioritizing your work, the question you have to answer is, "When?" As scary as it is sometimes, you have to decide. When you determine what date to take action, put the reminder in your tickler file system. Now you have a tool that enables you to prioritize your work and to measure whether the interruption of the moment is more important than what you said you were going to do today.
When people hear about this system, their first reaction is often fear-fear of making mistakes, fear of taking on another task, fear of failure. But remember that old saying, "If you keep doing what you're doing, you're going to keep getting what you're getting!" After trying the tickler file system for the first time, one client said, "Instant peace of mind!" Are you ready for something old and better?
? Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com