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Is your desk a mess of papers, sticky notes, torn sheets of paper with scribbled notes on them, reminders that make no sense, and stacks of papers and folders that you haven’t looked at in months?
You don’t realize it but this kind of clutter is causing you mental stress. Seeing that mess everyday sends signals to your brain that cause confusion, anxiety, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Whether consciously or subconsciously, this is keeping you from being at your best and most productive…and happiest.
The good news is there is one question to ask about each piece of paper on your desk that will clear it off your desk FOREVER! Up to now, that overwhelmed feeling in your brain has kept you from acting on it because you did not know where to start. This one simple question enables you to regain your power over the clutter and it frees you to do your best work in a less stressful and more productive environment. This is the key behind Getting Things Done.
Take all that mess on your desk and put it in a pile (or several piles if one pile begins to topple before reaching the ceiling). Now take the first item in that pile(s) and hold it in your hand. As you look at the information it contains, ask yourself this one simple question:
WHAT ACTION STEP MUST I TAKE TO GET THIS OFF MY DESK?
That’s it! That’s all there is to it. Look at the contents on the page or in the folder or on the sticky note, decide what needs to happen to move this off your desk, and most importantly, TAKE ACTION.
What you will find is that you will have three options for every item in your pile(s):
1. Take action and then throw this away (or file it).
2. No action necessary but I should file this for future reference.
3. No action necessary and this can be thrown away IMMEDIATELY.
If the action can be taken in two minutes or less, do it NOW! Make the call, write the email, or delegate the action item. If it will take a little more time, add this to your TO DO list (productivity management software) for action at a specific time.
For those items that need no action, either file them (not back in a pile of your desk) in your file folder or scan the information into electronic files OR throw them away. You’ll be surprised how many things you were “saving” that required NO action at all. Either they never did or the action has taken care of itself over time.
Take a few minutes, or a few hours, or even a few days, depending on the size of your piles, and go through this exercise. When you finish, you will have a sense of power and freedom you have not felt in a long while. And now that you have the “secret” to greater efficiency and productivity, you can keep this feeling forever. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish and your employers and clients (and even your family) will notice the difference…not only in your productivity but also in your attitude for work and life.
(PS This same process can be used at home and in working through the 10,000 messages in your email inbox.)