Monday, February 13, 2017

Susan's Suggested Method Managing Tasks

In order to manage a daily tasks, you will the following tools.

IN-BOX – A space in which all inputs will be temporarily stored. Although, this system is specifically addressing a paper In-Box, your e-mail In-Box may be another source of inputs and should be handled in the same manner as the physical In-Box.
TASK LIST - A place to list the tasks that need action.
TASK DRAWER – A place to store papers that are needed to complete tasks.
WORK IN PROGRESS (WIP) AREA – A place to store larger items for which a task needs to be done.

Setting up an In-Box
An In-Box can be made of any material. The most common types are wooden or plastic boxes and can be obtained at any office supply store. The In-Box should be approximated 9 inches wide by 13 inches long and should be no higher than three inches tall. If it is taller, then there will be a tendency to fill it to an unmanageable level and not clear it out on a regular basis.
The In-Box should be placed in an area that is convenient to all members of the household. Usually a kitchen or entryway is the best location. This will allow anyone to add papers or other inputs to the In-Box on a regular basis. Being in a convenient location will also allow the In-Box manager (you) to monitor how full it is. Later on, you will learn about clearing the In-Box. Right now create the In-Box and put it in a convenient location.

Selecting the Task List
The TASK LIST is a place to record incomplete activities that do not already have a time associated with them on the calendar. It is a great tool to keep track of all of the non-routine activities you have to accomplish. In other words, you would not put prepare lunch or get dressed on your task list. These are routines that typically have a time associated with them.
            I find it best to learn this process with a paper system, then if desired switch to an electronic system. Try to get a task list which has space for daily entries If you prefer, you can simply use a piece of paper. Use what you have and you can refine it later. Do not stop the process of getting organized to find the perfect tool.
            The only way for you to get a handle on the tasks you need to complete is to put them all in one place. If you sometimes need to write tasks on scraps of paper because you have your Task List handy, you will later need to transfer them onto the Master task list. YOU MUST HAVE ONLY ONE MASTER TASK LIST!

Setting up a Task Drawer

A very important part of accomplishing the tasks on your task list is determining what you need to complete them. Often people have the items strewn all over the counter, desk or house because they do not want to put the items away for fear that they will forget to do the task. Creating a file folder or drawer for storing items that will be used for completing your task items will make it easier to find the items needed when you are working on the task.
To set up a Task Drawer you need an empty file drawer or file box. If a drawer will be used then it should be located closest to your work surface or desk. This will allow easy access to it during the time you are going to complete tasks. Using a plastic file box is good because it is portable and can be used anywhere; however, unless you have a safe out-of-the-way place in which to store the file box, it can be unsightly.  If you normally are based in one location, then a task drawer will work. However, if you are typically traveling or on the road you may need use a more portable devices such as an accordion folder.
Once you have decided which type of file container you are going to use, fill it up with hanging folders and label them accordingly. There are many methods of filing within a task drawer. For instance, some people file by date, some by category and some by alphabetical order. For example, if you are filing by alphabetical order, use 26 hanging folders (any color) and label each hanging folder with one letter from the alphabet and hang in order from “A” to “Z”.  Or if you decide on date, label each folder “1” to “31”.
When inserting the label into the slot on the hanging folder align them all up in a row – not staggered. This allows for ease of finding the folder needed because the eye only needs to travel to one row when searching for a letter.

Setting up WIP Area
            Sometimes, the materials that you need to complete tasks are larger than a piece of paper. For example, clothing to be mended, pictures to be framed and gifts to be wrapped are tasks that you have to complete but the items needed are too big to fit into a file drawer. Find an area where you can store these items temporarily until you can complete them. This area can be anywhere but should be large enough to store bulky items. One shelf is preferable so that the amount of items can be limited and will not pile up.

Using the In-Box
Put all incoming paper in the In-Box. This includes: mail, notices from various organizations, scraps of paper with reminders, receipts, newspapers and magazines. If you are a parent, it could include permissions slips to sign or homework papers to check. It is important to train all household memebers to put items into the In-Box and inform the In-Box manager if there is something that needs immediate attention. For example, if a child puts his homework into the In-Box and the homework needs to be signed by the morning, you would need to make sure that you handle that immediately.
            If you want to minimize the amount of inputs going into the In-Box you can make rules for the types of items that should go into it. For example, when my children were younger it would not be uncommon to find Pokemon cards in my In-Box because technically they are paper. However, if I narrow the rule to all papers that need my attention should be put into my In-Box; then theoretically I would not get Pokemon cards in my In-Box.
            Also, if time permits you can do a pre-sort of mail going into the In-Box by discarding “junk” mail. Unless you will use them this week or next week, toss advertisements right in the recycle bin. If you receive a catalog, make a 10 second decision and if you will not use it within the next month toss it in the recycle bin.
            Creating reminder notes to yourself is a great way to get clutter out of your head. Whenever you think of something you have to do, write it on a small note paper and put the note in the In-Box. Remember the In-Box is the funnel for your inputs. You will learn to control them later.
            Sometimes you get items that are too big to put into the In-Box but you do not want to forget that you have to do something with them. Put the item in the WIP Area that you designated then write a reminder note that you have to do the task.

Putting it in Action - Staging
            Now that you have all of the tools, you ready to go. Start today and put your inputs in the In-Box. Do not worry about the clutter piles or backlog yet. This is where people fail because they get overwhelmed by the amount of paper they have already and do not start the system going forward.
Now that you have contained all of the inputs to one place, let us learn how to prepare them for completion. In a manufacturing environment this is called “staging.” On average, the staging process only takes 15 minutes a day. This 15-minute step can save hours of in-efficiency looking for scraps of paper or trying to decide what to do. If you do not do staging every day, then plan 15 minutes times the number of days you have not cleared the In-Box. If you only do it once per week, then plan about 2 hours (15 minutes times 7 days in a week equals 1 hours and 45 minutes).
Staging does not mean you have to act on every paper at that time. You have to decide what has to be done and when you are going to do it. If you have to miss a day or two that is okay. But if you miss more than that it can become too overwhelming. You should at minimum complete this Clearing out the In-Box phase at least once per week.
      The following routine for clearing In-Box can help you in this decision making process.

Routine for Clearing the In-Box
Empty all items out of the In-Box and put them either into the TASK DRAWER or if no further action is needed, long term storage or of course RECYCLING. This article is not going to address long term storage system. The rule is that IF YOU PUT AN ITEM INTO THE TASK DRAWER, THEN YOU NEED TO HAVE IT ON A TASK LIST SO YOU DON’T FORGET THAT SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE WITH IT.

All tasks from all sources should be entered into one place – your Task List. The process is as follows:
1.     Touch each paper once and decide what to do with it.
2.     If the paper needs action then write the task on the task list. It is important to be as specific as you need in order to remember what you have to do. It is also important to write the location of any items needed to complete the task for ease of retrieval later. If you are using an alphabetical task drawer, it is easy to catch the eye if you put the location of the item in parentheses (). How do you know what letter to file the paper under? Select one that makes sense to you. If you have to call the exterminator and you have a flier with the phone number and other information about them, you may want to file the flier under “E” for exterminator. The task you would write on your task list would be written as: Call Exterminator (E). File the paper in the  appropriate folder within the Task Drawer. 4.
3.     If the paper does not need action, decide if you will need the paper again. If yes, file in long term storage.
3.     If the paper does not need action and you will not need the paper again, toss or shred it.

·       Sometimes you do not know if you need to act upon a paper or are unable to make a quick decision. Then file the paper in a read later folder and put task “Read ( R )” on the list.  A caution about this folder. It should be cleared out regularly and you should allow at least two to four hours to complete the task of clearing it out. Therefore, the more decisions you make up front, the less time you will spend later.
·       Some of the reminders that you put in your In-Box may be notes with information that you need to reference at a later date. As you are clearing your In-Box, just like with other papers, decide if these notes are reference and should be in a long term storage location or if they will require action at a later date.  For example, a note with a password would be a reference that would need to be filed in a more permanent location. A note with a book that you may want to read would be a more temporary note and should be filed in the Task Drawer.
·       If you have a paper which includes many tasks and do not have the time to enter them all into the Task List, enter one task to break out tasks for that paper and file the paper (s) in Task Drawer. For example, you may have gone to a meeting at which you had several follow up tasks. The task would read as follows: Follow up on Meeting Notes (M).
·       Sometimes a person needs to accomplish a task before you can move ahead on a project or a person may have borrowed something from you. It is difficult to remember others’ commitments to you so create a manila folder titled “Waiting for . . .,” file it in the hanging folder labeled “W” and Create a task on your Task List to follow up with the person (W).
·       Remember, whenever you file something in the task drawer, you must write it as a task on the Task List first.

Categorizing Routine Tasks
      In some cases, it may be easier to categorize like tasks and schedule time to work on that group of tasks. Some examples of the tasks that are often grouped together are:
·       Read
·       Phone calls
·       Forms to Fill out
·       Items to enter into calendar
·       Bills to Pay
·       Data entry into contacts
·       Errands

If you are going to categorize any tasks, create a manila folder for all papers in that category. The same rule applies to this generalized task. Create a task on the Task List for the category, write in parentheses the location that it is filed.

Although some of these tasks don’t have a specific time associated with accomplishing them, you may want to schedule time to complete these routines.

Handling Backlog
Initially, you may be overwhelmed with the overflow of items that you really have to act upon. You may have so much backlog that you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t let your backlog stop you from moving forward.
Schedule chunks of time to whittle down the already existing piles of clutter. Even if you are only able to schedule 15 minutes a day it is better than nothing.  The process is the same. Write the task onto the Task list and file the item in the task drawer or Work In Progress area.
During this time of transition, continue to keep up with the new inputs for current responsibilities or projects

The next steps would be to prioritize and manage the task list.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Task File

Many people are unorganized because they have too much to do and they have too many papers associated with the tasks. So the papers are scattered or piled in a way that reminds them of what needs to be done. But these papers actually cause confusion and much wasted time. I recommend that you create a task file. It could be a drawer on the desk, a plastic box or an accordion file. Then you need a way to remember what you have to do.Creating a file folder or drawer for storing items that will be used for completing your task items will make it easier to find the items needed when you are working on the task.

There are many methods of filing within a task drawer. For instance, some people file by date (1-31), some by category and some by alphabetical order (A-Z).  If you file by date, simply put the item in the day that you plan to do the task. If you file by category, you will need to schedule time to work on each category. For example, if making phone calls is a category, you must schedule time to actually make the phone calls.  If you file by alphabetical order you must use a to-do list to keep track of the items put into the task drawer. To remember what you put in which folder simply put the letter in parentheses after the task on the to-do list. For example, if you have a form to fill out write "form to fill out (F)" on your to-do list. 

I have seen all combinations of these three methods work successfully for people. The key is to put the papers in a place that you can easily obtain them when you are ready to work on them.