There is an endless flood of issues - 'paperwork' - in all the many
forms it comes in, calling for attention. The 'information society'
has so many rich forms of communication, that it is easy to call into
the trap of thinking that handling a lot of paper, is handling it well.
We use the term: paperwork, to include the broader term of traditional
paper media - letters, memoranda, circulars, magazines, and also
non-traditional items which tempt instant response and reply:
email, phone calls,
meetings, web-browsing, instant messaging, blogging, compulsive reading of RSS feeds, more.
We teach Covey, Seven Habits (First Press, 1990), which provides a systematic
approach to realigning Character and Practice into Habit. Part of the book
covers the example which breaks workflow into four quadrants in two
axes: Urgent and not Urgent; Important and not Important, and points
out that Quadrant One (Urgent and Important; fighting off the alligators)
will overwhelm the productive,
thoughtful sector of character based, principled action in Q Two (Important,
but not Urgent; digging the canal to drain the swamp).
Winston, in her The Organized Executive (Norton, 1983) gets down to Methods and Tactical
implementation to regain control of a runaway workload; she anticipates
Covey, and re-factors the medical
concept of 'triage' and applies it is a fashion suited to independent, or
Note: When we teach this, there are visual aids, and acting, to help force
the name of the author, and her techniques, into the student's long term
memory, so that the elements may be readily recalled.
In order of preference, we seek to resolve an item thus:
Trash: Toss the issue away, and think of it no more. This sounds
so simple, but is hard to do. The joke email making the rounds, the ringing
telephone, scanning the headlines on CNN, or following links on Google
to see what is 'out there' are tempting time-wasters. Resist, and begin to
own your schedule again.
Refer the matter to another, optionally with a notation in your desk diary
(or its electronic successor) for a 'call-back', if it is a matter for
development, research, or collaborative decision. Reference may be lateral,
to a subordinate, or to a organizational superior. If a matter is not
ripe for decision, can another develop the choices for you? If you can
properly delegate, do so. If you feel you cannot, you may need to rethink the workloads you
have undertaken, or unconsciously assumed, and decide if they represent
being an enabler for a dependent other.
Act on it yourself. Some matters are require your personal
involvement. The human temptation is to 'do it myself, so that it is done
right'; other exercises of judgment or discretion are unavoidably
non-delegable. Decide, communicate the decision, and refer it away.
File away items which will truly be needed in your future. But
understand when you do so that files need to be purged as well, and so there
will come a 'day of reckoning' when files need to be purged. Knowing this,
it may make more sense to note a 'pointer' or bookmark, in a hierarchical and
indexed information store simply to leave a trail to the source document.
Scan ∴ the item, making a dot in the upper right corner. And place it
at the bottom of the 'In' basket. When it has three dots [∴], i
it may not be scanned again, and another
disposition must be chosen.
Hint: Repeated indecision (no - let's call it 'dithering') while Scanning
may indicate that a matter is
insufficiently important for you to consider further at present -- Trash it
Trash it and move on.
You may need more information:
Refer it (possibly to yourself) for further investigation
[note that this
may well mean getting it into your formal diarying and workflow processes;
if it is not important enough for that, you just reached the decision to
Trash it again].
Bite the bullet:
Act on it.
File it -- but think about the back-end load
of file purging. Trash it if it is not unique or collectible.
And the non-choice:
Scan stops cycle of indecision.
Finally: We are aware of Getting Things Done, by David Allen (Viking Adult),
but consider its rubric to be 'too late' in the process of a
real world workflow to be as valuable as Winston and Covey.
This said, there is much to be said for 'getting an idea out of your head,
and into a durable tracking system.'
Jim Prior's practice of reducing his notes from the day into: