Productivity Accountability

You’re Still Responsible Even If You Can’t Find It, Didn’t Do It, or Forgot All About It


Nervous Have you stopped looking at the paper accumulating on your desk? Are some of those piles becoming invisible? Are you hoping that if things build up enough you’ll be exempt from making decisions or doing certain tasks because they’ve expired or they’re buried and never to be seen again?

Or maybe you know what’s important, because it’s all near the top of the pile, and you’d say you’re still on top of things, despite what’s piling up around you. That what these authors said. Check it out…

“In general, on a messy desk, the more important, urgent work tends to stay close by and near the top of the clutter, while the safely ignorable stuff tends to get buried to the bottom or near the back, which makes perfect sense.”  (Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, “A Perfect Mess”)

Perfect sense? I’m sorry, but there’s nothing perfect or sensible about that statement.

In my clients’ offices, we’ve found lots of important, and sometimes urgent, work that was buried, but still needed to be done, so I have to disagree with this generality. The priorities are not always at the top of your pile.

Not only this, but why are we “safely ignoring” the other stuff at the bottom or in the back? If you’re ignoring it, then how important is it? Why do you have it? Why is it still there?

Are you hoping it’s not actionable… hoping that it’ll go away if you ignore it long enough? Way to be decisive! Go get ‘em tiger…

If you have any stuff you’re “ignoring,” it should be gone. And if you needed it for reference, then it could have been filed away ages ago – and still forgotten – but at least you would know where to find it when you need it.

In order to make more decisions faster and stay on top of what you’re receiving or bringing into your office, here are five main stations or locations in your office where you can put things:

  1. A reading pile – a small one and one that you can actually keep up with
  2. An action pile or file in a vertical sorter that stays out on your desk or credenza
  3. An outgoing pile, like an outbox, for things that will exit your office or get delegated
  4. Your file cabinet – notice that I didn’t say a “To Be Filed” pile? You should always be able to file things immediately, without hesitation. You need to find reference materials in your files, not your piles.
  5. The trash can – or recycle bin or shred bin. Please use these frequently and freely.

The most important area mentioned above is the one saved for your current action items, either in a small pile or a vertical sorter. And while these action items should stay out, they should also be noted on your electronic task list so you have a complete list of what you’re going to do and when. You should be looking at a Task list for what to do next, not in the piles around you.

Otherwise, it’ll a roll of the dice if you’ll target the right priorities, when you’ll get things get done, or when you’ll actually find things on that messy desk.

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