When a task or project is on the top of your mind, it’s easy to believe that you will remember to take action. So, you set the paperwork on your desk, fully intending to take care of it right away, or at least before it becomes obsolete. But then, another priority item comes along, and that one goes on top. Pretty soon, you have a pile. Does this sound familiar?

How to RememberOf course, there are several reasons why you cannot complete a task while you are still thinking about it. You might be waiting for information from someone else, you need to gather supplies, you have to make a phone call, or any number of factors. What you need is a way to remind yourself to complete the next task when you have the time and resources to do so. The trick that I use is to ask myself, “what will remind me?” There are three basic ways that you can remind yourself, and each of those has variations.

External reminders: these prompt you to do something, separately from the paperwork itself. This could be a smart phone, a wall calendar, a sticky note, an appointment book, or an automatic email. You are not using the actual project paperwork to remind you.

Habit: some things are so ingrained that you do them without thinking. You make coffee in the morning, you buy groceries on Saturday, you pay the mortgage on the first of the month. But, why would you expect yourself to remember something that is a short-term project? To me, the burden of having to remember is stressful, so I take great notes and create reminders for myself. Leave the “habit reminders” for something that you truly do without thinking.

Using the item itself: this method is what creates the most paper clutter. Don’t get me wrong, I do use this method. But, I am strategic about how I use it. For example, if I have an item that will take 10 minutes or less to finish, there is no sense in taking 5 minutes to choose a day, write it in my calendar, and place the item in my action folder. That’s just too fussy for me. But sometimes, I consider it a mistake to use the item as a reminder. Here is an example. Let’s say you are just starting to plan a family reunion in Hawaii. You have asked your friends for ideas, researched several places to stay and checked your work schedule. Then, you sent an email to the family members involved. They have to check their schedules and get back to you, so you cannot do anything more until they do. What do you do with the paperwork that you have? Do you leave it in a pile on your desk? Well, that is what creates clutter. A better way is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Can I work on this right now?
  2. What is the next action that I need to take?
  3. What will I use to remind me?

Use these questions to decide whether it is best to put the item aside, and then create an external reminder. The goal is to reduce the volume of paperwork that is on your desk at any one moment. It takes practice, so you might want to experiment with something that’s not crucial, to see if you like it, such as papers that you have gathered to remodel your kitchen something related to a hobby.

Let me know if you like this method – or even if you don’t – I would like to hear from you.

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