Take Action On Your Paper Piles

5-Step ACTION ProcessOn Day 8 of my 31 Days of Real Life Organizing series, I posted about Redefining The Inbox so if you haven’t already read that you may want to do so now. I’ll wait…

An inbox is an important but interim component for effectively organizing your paper. The first step is to make sure all paper requiring your attention, decisions, etc. make it to your inbox. Once the paper is collected and routed into your inbox, now it’s time to process it and determine what needs to happen next.

Before we talk about the steps to process paper, I think it would be helpful to think about what paper really represents: there are to-do’s, appointment information, contacts, information you need to reference in the future, stuff you may need to keep; information, actions and decisions. It’s not really about the paper. It’s about what needs to happen with the information contained within the paper.

One of the keys to moving paper forward is to process fully without actually getting sidetracked by doing. Wait, what? Yes, you heard {read} me correctly. There’s a time for processing and a time for doing. Make sure you do both, each at the right time. Neither will work effectively on their own or if implemented inconsistently. Also, don’t get thrown off track by trying to do everything right away- you’ll never be able to accurately prioritize and manage it all.

I think it helps to frame it as triaging. If you’ve ever had the unfortunate occasion to visit a hospital Emergency Department, you have probably witnessed the Triage Nurse in action. S/he performs triage to assess and prioritize each patient’s acuity and determine whether they qualify for Fast Track, Trauma, etc. prior to being treated. In simpler terms, it’s a process for prioritizing patients based on the severity of their condition when there aren’t enough resources to treat them all at once. Translated to paper, it is a process for you to prioritize which paper require attention based on several factors (due date, how long it will take to complete, dependencies, resources required, and current commitments, etc.) because you cannot address them all at once.

Here’s my 5-step ACTION process for triaging paper in your inbox: Eliminate, Delegate, ACT, Extract, Archive.

So, while you look at each piece of paper, ask yourself what it is? What does it represent and go through the ACTION process below.

Eliminate- Can the paper be toss, shredded, or eliminated {more on that later}?

Delegate- Is there an action that can be completed by someone else?

ACT- Is it related to an Appointment, Contact or Task?

Extract- Do you only need a portion of the information contained on the paper?

Archive- Does the paper in its entirety need to be preserved/retained?

I wanted to introduce you to the process first and I’ll get into more step by step in a coming post. Questions, comments, feedback? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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