Setting Up Action Files

by Ramona Creel

Organizing For Forward Momentum

I often feel that the number one challenge people face with paper is not the quantity (although there is way too much of it about) — it's lack of motion. When you've got a good system for processing, a big pile of to-do's is a piece of cake. But when any amount of paper lands on your desk and just sits there, it's going to create problems. The goal is forward momentum — that's why they call it “work flow,” rather than “work stop!” If you want to keep paper moving through your system (instead of stagnating and clogging up your in-box), you need to “verb” it — that means sorting according to the action required. Start with the nearest pile, ask yourself what you need to do with each item, then create a folder for each answer. You'll probably come up with categories like:

  • “to pay”
  • “to file”
  • “to contact”
  • “to buy”
  • “to read”
  • “to enter in computer”
  • “to reconcile”
  • “to give to _________”

Set these folders up in a file box or rack, placed in plain view. The goal is to break that pile down into just a few action categories — and to give new paper a place to live until you have a chance to tackle it. Each day, take just a minute to go through the incoming to-do's and file accordingly.  Of course, you may have multiple steps to take with each item (like a credit card statement with an error on it — where you need to make a phone call, then pay the bill, then file it.) Don't make it more complicated than it needs to be. Just ask yourself, “What is the NEXT step I need to take to clear this item up?” You start by putting it in “to contact,” and you may only have time for that one step today. Not to worry — simply move it to “to pay” and it will be waiting for you on your next round of to-do's (plus, you won't forget where you were in processing that document.)

Rethinking The Way You Do Things

How do you make sure that everything you put into a file comes back out again? Schedule a regular weekly appointment with yourself (maybe an hour or two, once or twice a week) and block off that slot for “admin time”. During admin time, your goal is to go through each folder in order and try to complete every item inside. If you can't complete that item for some reason, put it back in the folder and tackle it during your next admin period. And if you finish one step, but then realize that you have another step to take with that paper, make a note or attach a sticky so there's no confusion later on.

Why would you worry about working through one folder before moving to the next? You will accomplish more in less time when you complete each activity in sequence (paying all of your bills at once, then making all of your calls, then doing all of your filing) — as opposed to bopping back and forth between different tasks. Take a “mass production” tip from Henry Ford — your work will get done faster and easier if you focus on one category at a time. Plus, completing a folder allows that weight to lift from your shoulders — you know that all the bills are paid or all the calls are made, and you can forget about those to-do's until your next admin period. If you follow this system, you will never accumulate more than a week's worth of paper at any time, you have no reason to miss a deadline or get hit with a late fee — and you don't have to continually worry, “When will I get it all done,” because you know that any to-do's will be taken care of during your next regular admin period. Is that genius, or what? Wink

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.