Susan Walko is a professional organizer who stays up at night dreaming of the best way to help others live an organized life. In her blog posts, she tries to stay short and sweet, but don't let that fool you. She has a depth of knowledge that has helped many on their path to downsizing to a clutter free existence. Check her out at www.organiz-er.com.
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
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
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.
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
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 notstop
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
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.
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 normallyare
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.
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”
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
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 memebersto 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 -
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 notstart
the system going forward.
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).
does notmean 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.
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
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
notneed 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:
·Forms to Fill out
·Items to enter
·Bills to Pay
·Data entry into
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
some of these tasks don’t have a specific time associated with accomplishing
them, you may want to schedule time to complete these routines.
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.
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.
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.
For more information, or to get help with your organization needs, visit
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.
For more information, or to get help with your organization needs, visit