Sunday, January 11, 2009

Getting Things Done: The Filing Cabinets

Amazingly enough, I have not done a post on David Allen's Getting Things Done. Why is this so amazing? Because I am a major fan of Getting Things Done.

What is "Getting Things Done?" Well first off let me call it by the normal short hand: GTD. The father of the GTD system is a person called David Allen. GTD is a system for productivity. But it is also a system of stress relief.

Now I'm sure everybody would like to be less stressful.

When we first take a look at stress, the sources of our stress are not all that obvious. The obvious stuff that makes a stressed is the fact that we have so much to do. There are bills to pay. There is work to be done. It seems like work just builds up to beyond our ability to address it.

So the simple answer to this, is to say "Well I need less things to do." Asking for less things to do, however, is simply not realistic. No matter who are you, in today's environment, you are going to have too much to do. So the real challenge is how do we react to all of stuff that we need to do. David suggests a series of ideas and thoughts and processes that allow us to deal better with all the stuff that we have in our in-basket of life.

In future posts I'll try to look more at the substance of the "Getting Things Done," but for right now I want to give a suggestion just about one thing: FILING YOUR STACKS.

How much time per year do you spend looking for stuff? In reality we are just swimming in stuff. We have so much stuff that we don't even know what to do with it. I have heard that the average worker spends 150 hours per year looking for stuff. This is four weeks of working. I believe that it is true. Losing stuff is super frustrating.

So if you're like me you really have two different things that you end up doing.

Number one: you can simply throw stuff away.

Number two: you can take all your stuff and stack it or throw it into a drawer.

Now what is the problem with either one of these things. If you are throwing stuff away it is wasteful. If you are like me and was raised in a household where both of my parents came through the Great Depression, you'd simply don't throw stuff away. You save stuff. Therefore you have stacks and stacks and stacks of stuff.

The problem with having this is you may have stuff inside of baskets, inside of drawers, inside of places that you don't have the foggiest idea where the actual thing that you are looking for is. So the day that you want to use a screw, or find that clamp, or install that software you bought six months ago, you can't figure out for the life of you, what you did with that thing.

We were recently discussing this at work. I asked one of the people who used to work for me, "Let's say that you buy a switch because you think that you're going to need it someday." I then asked him "where are you going to put that switch?" He answered me "I'd probably throw it in a drawer somewhere." I then asked him would you be able to find that switch when you need it?

"Not a chance," he answered. "I would probably go off to Home Depot and buy another one."

So the answer is the following: you by filing cabinets. Now you don't by filing cabinets to store paper. You buy filing cabinets to store your little items that would otherwise get lost. So let's go back to the switch that we were talking about.

In the David Allen scenario, you would take out a manila folder. You would label that manila folder. You would then take that manila folder and put it into your filing cabinet. You would label that manila folder as "switch," and you would file it.

Even small things should be filed. If you had one screw that you knew that you were going to need later, and it took up a very very small space, you would do the above. Now this may seem wasteful, but you need to think yourself how many times have I looked for something. In this scenario you are going to be able to find.

Now you may ask "how will I know where exactly the screw is in the filing cabinet?" The answer is pretty simple. You simply look into the three or four filing selections that you knew that you may put it under. Really there are only very few ways of filing something. Maybe the screw is under "screw." Maybe this screw is under "desktop." Maybe this screw is under "china hutch." The good thing about this is you only need to look three or four different places before you find it inside your filing system. It's not like you're trying to dig around a bunch of empty baskets or pins or drawers or plastic bags.

So does the system work? It works pretty well. The biggest issue that I have, is a lack of space. So over break I started to look at Craigslist. The best thing about Craigslist is if you look hard enough you should be able to find filing cabinets for somewhere between $25-$50. Three or four of these will go a long way toward eliminating all of the stuff which has invaded your life.

If you are like me, and if you have four kids and home schooling life, you're probably going to need a few more filing cabinets. In our household we have something like 16 of them. They are scattered around the house and in the garage. Is this too many, but in reality I probably could use about twice as many.

Even with the filing cabinets that we have, as can be seen here, there is still a lot of stuff that gets left out. However having something done rather than nothing done is a lot better than having nothing to. While we may not have everything in its perfect place, it is the mental relief to have a lot of stuff in its place. The investment is well worth it.

So here, for your viewing pleasure, is our little homeschooling schoolroom. as you can see in this photograph, we have quite a few filing cabinets where we can put stuff. On top of the filing cabinets we have steel shelves that allows us to put even more stuff on top of them. This is high density storage. It allows us to store an awful lot of stuff in a very very small space.

While our filing system is not perfect, it is a whole better, then stacking stuff on top of each other into boxes and into corners.

If this thought has been interesting at all, you are now enjoying the idea of life hacking. What is "life hacking?" you may ask. Life hacking is the idea that there are lots of little tricks that will allow you to organize your life better, allow you to get more stuff done, and have less stress.

A great place to start is to go to which is one of the more popular websites that discusses "Getting Things Done" type of systems.

Welcome to the New World.

No comments: