My office was getting disorganized, with papers spread all over the place. So yesterday I took a couple hours to clean up and organize. I used three key principles that I learned years ago. I apply these whenever I organize files, tasks or physical items.
- Subdivide into clusters
Start by putting related items together. Aim for no more than 8-10 clusters. Each cluster should have a clear definition of what goes into the cluster. Items that don’t fit any cluster can be put into a miscellaneous cluster.
Name your clusters if you can. Depending on what I’m organizing, I either start with names and use those to define the clusters, or I cluster items that seem related and let the name emerge later. Often I use both approaches. I’ll start off with top-level named clusters, but as I move into sub-clusters, I let them emerge naturally.
For work, I organize and name clusters by department: Legal, Accounting, Product Development, Sales, Customer Support, etc. For personal items, I often organize by location or context: Office, Kitchen, Storage or Camping, Exercise, Games.
- Do multiple passes, one level at a time
Don’t attempt to create a massive organizational system all at once. Work progressively through multiple passes. Keep the number of clusters in each pass to no more than 8-10, and don’t force clusters. If you have an odd item, put it in a miscellaneous folder. The right place for it may emerge later.
While it seems like more work, taking extra passes makes things easier. You have less to evaluate at each pass, so you can get through everything faster.
For instance, when organizing notes, I don’t have to figure out which customer folder to put a note. I can simply determine it’s a sales note and then figure out the customer on the second pass. Often it may not even be worth creating a separate folder on the second pass, so I save time by avoiding needless organization.
- Keep organized items separate from in progress items
Don’t try to organize in-place. If you’re like me, you get lost too easily and start re-processing items you already processed and missing some items entirely.
When organizing physical items, I sort clusters into piles and create a physical separation between my organized piles and my unorganized piles.
For digital files, I move them to a temporary folder or rename them as I go along. I often start organizing by appending an underscore to the beginning of each filename. Then as I organize them, I remove the underscore. It may feel like extra work, but it simplifies keeping track of where you are at.
There’s other techniques I use, but these three form the core of how I organize.
What techniques do you us to get organized?