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Handle it - This is preferred thing to do with most stuff. For example, if item in your hand is a registration form you've been meaning to fill out, take 2 minutes and fill out form, attach a check, record check, put it in an envelope and drop it in mail box. I say this is best option because it does two great things, 1) it eliminates item, giving you one less thing to worry about and it gives you an immediate sense of satisfaction. If you have an item that needs your attention, you need to determine if you can handle it quickly or if you need to file it. Obviously, handling it, is best approach because then you only have to touch it once; however, you will find some items in your stack that would take too long to handle on spot. For instance, you may find notes and an introduction to a book you've been meaning to write. It would clearly take more than five minutes to write your book so your next choice would be to file it.
File it - This is choice many people resist. They reason that out of site means out of mind. This is true but there are ways to organize yourself so that you don't forget things. One of best options is to keep a to-do list. Before you file your manuscript, you should make a notation on your to-do list that says "finish manuscript." Then you should file your manuscript and go on to next item. Filing things does not necessarily mean that it will sit in a file permanently. In fact, it's opposite. If you are planning on filing something indefinitely, you should consider boxing it up and moving it to storage or throwing it away.
So how long should you keep things? This issue keeps many individuals and businesses from cleaning out their files. I don't have expertise to answer every question but if you do a search on Internet for "record retention", you may be able to answer those questions yourself. When it comes to tax returns, IRS has 3 - 6 years to investigate your returns; therefore, you are probably safe throwing out your 1973 tax returns. On other hand, if you've kept them that long, you may want to give them to a museum.
The only things you should file are things you could reasonably be expected to look at again within next few years. Otherwise, what's point in keeping it? Filing something could also mean putting it in a temporary file. However, be careful about this. It is too easy to fill your temporary file and then it becomes a mess itself.
When you file things, you don't just stuff item into a file and put it in file cabinet. I recommend you label file properly. The easiest way to do this is to buy a label maker. They run from $25 - $50.00 and are very neat and practical. Then you should sort your files alphabetically. Make sure your file cabinet doesn't get too stuffed. If it does, it will discourage you from filing additional items.
Delegate it - Option three is to delegate your item. If you have staff who report to you, this is often easier than if you are "low man on totem pole." However, even if no one reports to you, you can still delegate things to others. Perhaps item doesn't belong to you - return it. If your lawnmower is sitting in a state of disrepair, hand it over to mechanic to fix. In other words, if you don't have time to handle something or don't have ability to handle it, consider giving item to someone else who can help you. Of course, you may also need to make a notation on your to-do list such as "pick up lawn mower." However, delegation can be a great way to get things done.
Get rid of it - There are three basic ways to get rid of something. You can give it away, sell it, or throw it away. Giving something away or throwing it away are easiest things to do and should be done generously. If you have a four month old stack of newspapers, throw them away. You have to face reality here. If you haven't read newspaper in four months, you aren't ever likely to read them. Simply throw them away and be done with it. If item in question has some value, then you can give it away or sell it.
These days it is easier than ever to sell things. Simply visit ebay.com and list your item. Of course, you have now moved category to "handle it" category but, at least, you are on your way to getting rid of it.
The clean up process can take a lot of time. Obviously, bigger mess, more effort will be involved in removing items and applying four options to each item. However, reward at end is well worth it.
At end of process, you should be left with a clean work area. The only things that should be left out are things you are immediately working on. This is very important. At end of day, there should be nothing on top of your desk except your monitor, telephone and minimal accessories such as two pens and two pencils in a holder. If you are cleaning up a shop area, there should be nothing left on work surfaces. The only thing that should ever be on top of a work space should be one thing you are actively engaged in. Everything else that you are currently working on should be filed or delegated to someone else.
Paul Holstein is the developer of CableOrganizer.com, a site dedicated to providing all the products you need to eliminate your cable clutter. Please visit http://cableorganizer.com for more information.