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Action Items

Action item alarm clock.

Action items are a type of paperwork that needs attention, like reminders of appointments, or a bill that’s coming due.

One common mistake people make when organizing their paperwork is keeping action items out to help them remember. Put away the paper and keep the reminder. Keeping an action item on your desk leads to clutter. Have a specific place for action items, so you know where to look for them when it is time to take that action.

Have a reminder system in place. You can set a reminder on your phone, write it in a paper planner, or use one of the action item systems below, and put the paper away.

Use the 2-minute rule – if it will take less than 2 minutes to do it, do it now. It’s not worth your time to file it. Set the reminder, and find it again – just do it!

Prioritize

I have four suggested methods for prioritizing paperwork in increasing complexity: an in/out tray, a 3-level priority system, Steven Covey’s quadrant method, and tickler files. Use the one that suits you best and is going to be the easiest for you to maintain. Remember the point is not to organize the paperwork, the point is to take action on your paperwork.

  • In/Out Tray: An in/out tray is a very simple way to keep track of action items. When you have a task to complete or a reminder of something due, it goes in the In tray. Once completed, move it to the Out tray. You can always look in your In tray to remind you of what you need to accomplish.

  • 3-Level Priority System: There are many ways to do a 3-level priority system, according to what works for you. Create three folders and label them based on level of importance or urgency. Hot/Warm/Cold, Do Now/Do Soon/Do Someday, Today/This Week/Next Week, and Red/Yellow/Blue are just a few ways to label these folders.

    This kind of system breaks down action items into easy-to-understand categories. That way, you can see at a glance what needs your attention.
  • Tickler Files: Tickler files – file folders labeled with dates – are a great way to keep action item paperwork accessible and organized. Here are two ways to use them:
    • 8 Folders By Week: This system consists of one folder for each day of the week and one folder for the next week or later. As you go through the week, complete items in the appropriate folder. Once a week, review the items in the “next week” folder, then decide when to do them in the coming week.
    • 43 Folders By Month: This is a more detailed system consisting of 31 folders (one for each day of the month) plus 12 folders (one for each upcoming month). At the beginning of the month, review all items in the monthly folder and sort them depending on which day you want to do them. Complete items in daily folders daily to keep on top of your action items.

  • Stephen Covey’s Quadrant Method: Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, had a simple way of categorizing tasks based on urgency and importance, and this works with paperwork too. The infographic below shows how to use this system.
Action Items: Covey Quadrants

Using these strategies, you can organize your action items and work more effectively.

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