Organize Yourself in 2015–How to Improve Your Information Organization System


This series of posts is designed to take the traditional time management system, best exemplified by Brian Tracy’s system in his books “Goals” and “Eat That Frog”, and to go to the next level by developing a more “agile” time management system that can cope with the fact that your workplace, your home life, and everything in between is in a constant state of flux.   You need a system that is robust enough to withstand the changes that modern life can throw at you.   David Allen’s organizational and time management system as described in his book “Getting Things Done” is a great example of such an agile system.

His core concept of the book is that you need to develop a system to manage your workflow with the following five stages.

  1. Collect pieces of information that commands your attention
  2. Process what these mean and decide what action to take about them.
  3. Organize the results efficiently.
  4. Review your options
  5. Decide what to do

The last post described how to improve your information processing system, the second stage of his system as outlined above.  This post covers the next step of his organization system, that of improving your information organization system.

1.   The Information Processing Workflow Diagram

The workflow diagram below is a a presentation of the five stages of managing your workflow.   Please refer to it in the following discussion.

2.  The Eight Information Bins

If you have processed the information from your inbox, as described in the last post, by asking “Is It Actionable?”, then there are three bins for if you have answered “NO”, and five bins for if you have answered “YES”.  Let’s take the first three information bins which correspond to information which is NOT actionable on the day you receive it.

a.  Trash

If is it not something that requires action, and it contains no information of lasting value, you throw it in the trash.

b.  Incubate Tools

If it is not something that requires immediate action (in 2 minutes or less), and does not need to be done on that day, then you may put it in the “Next Action” or “Action Item” list.

c.  Reference Files

If it is not something that requires any action at all, but represents information which may be useful at some later time, then you may put in a reference file.   These file folders should be split into categories; however, you may split some of these folders into subfolders for ease of finding the information you need quickly

Now for the five information bins which correspond to information which is IS actionable on the day you receive it.

d.  Project Lists

For those items which require more than one action step, they are considered projects and need to go in your project list.

e.  Project Plan/Schedule

Each project will need to have a project plan, which lists the activities or tasks to be done, the deliverables or tangible results of those individual tasks (if any), and the date on which those tasks need to be done.   A project plan and/or schedule needs to be completed for every project on the project list.

f.   Next Action List

For those items which require only one action step, if they are not immediately, then they need to go on the “Action Items” or “Next Action” list.

g.  Pending Action List

For those items where you need information from someone else to complete the action, they need to go on the “Pending Action” list.

h.  Calendar

For those items which require an action by a certain day such as a deadline, or request your presence on a specific date and time, they should be recorded in your calendar or other diary system so that you don’t forget them.

If you take the information and process it into this organization system consisting of the eight bins mentioned above, you will be in a good position to take effective and efficient action on everything in your system.    Remember, if the goal of stage 2 is to empty your Inbox, the goal of stage 3 is to work on reducing the “Next Action”, “Pending Action” and “Project Lists” bins.

The next post will cover the periodic review you will need to do to make sure that there are no “holes” in your information bins.

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