Editor’s Note: This is part two in our two- part series on organizing. Our March edition featured an introduction to Ethan’s techniques on creating a clutter-free space. I once spent about a week over Christmas vacation cleaning the shop’s “supply room.” It had become a catch-all and was hardly a safe place to go alone. There were pulsating masses of stuff waiting to trip you up and suck you in. As we cleaned, we took pallets to the dumpster and a pallet’s worth to the recycling place. We even found supplies that we were preparing to reorder again! In the end, we labeled bins and emptied the aisles so you could walk through, and anyone could find what they wanted. The payback was not only in the stuff we did not have to order , but in the time everyone saved by not having to search for supplies. Interestingly, once we had the bins and labels, maintaining that room did not take much effort. This made the vacation we spent cleaning productive across multiple shop positions for many months. And time is one resource that is in short supply around here! One of the most valuable tools in organizing your space is using a label maker to categorize shelves, bins, or folders, as we did for our “supply room.” This allows you to store and organize the items you may not need at this moment but still might need in the future.
In regards to files specifically, David Allen’s solution is to use a label maker on 3-cut manila folders and drop one manila folder in a file folder instead of using the plastic tabs that come with it. The labeled manila folder is much faster to organize, so you won’t procrastinate and have another pile of work to look at and say, “I’ll file that when I have more time.” Another tip when doing this is to deploy a “general folder group.” You can add willy-nilly to this whenever you have another paper you want to keep but don’t need right now. We have always had separate logs for customer information, orders to fill, and vendor details, but the breakthrough for us was establishing the general file, which allows space for all the in-between categories. This technique took literal inches off my stack of desk papers. I started out with two drawers, and I now have eight drawers within my general files. (When doing this, I also used David Allen’s suggestion of having filing cabinets that open and close like a German car door. The reasoning is that if it’s not fun to use, the habit will be short-lived!) The general file idea was then borrowed for the clunky, physical items we have around the shop. This is a cabinet with shelves and bins for those small parts and samples that don’t fit as well in a manila folder. It's freeing to store these items now, knowing anyone can find things in seconds when they’re needed.
Other techniques we have used include always taking notes when ideas occur, regularly reviewing our space, purging outdated and no longer useful materials, and emptying both digital and physical inboxes almost every day. And while this may seem like a lot of work, becoming organized doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It can be a powerful way to add structure to your daily life and free your mind for more important or creative tasks. If you’re interested in keeping your mind free year-round, I recommend picking up Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress- Free Productivity.”
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