Managing our to-do’s and projects and the plethora of items associated with them is a challenging task that, when handled ineffectively, creates clutter and disorganization on our desks and in our home offices. But there’s a simple, versatile solution that will work with any home business. And today, I’m showing you how to use action files to manage to-do’s!
How to Use Action Files to Manage To-Do’s
Welcome to the official kick off of Organize Your Files Week! Last week, we got a jump start on Organize Your Files Week by gathering all of our loose papers and sorting them into 4 basic categories: To Do, To Read, To File, and Trash/Recycle/Shred. Today, we’re going to tackle one of those sorted stacks, the To Do pile, and organize all of those tasks into action files! Let’s talk about how to use action files to manage to-do’s!
*If you missed last week’s post, you can read it HERE and take your first step to conquering home office paper clutter. Then, come back here and complete today’s tasks!
What are Action Files?
Action files (also called current files) hold any papers that require our attention or that require us to do something. That could include a proposal request that needs fulfilled, a report that needs written, or papers associated with an in-progress project.
We need action files at our fingertips, so that we can take the required action in a timely manner.
How to Create Action Files
In order to create action files that are relevant for you and your business, we’re going to sort the To Do stack that we created last week (read last week’s post HERE) into more specific categories.
If your To Do stack is fairly small, you may feel comfortable skipping this round of sorting and storing your to-do stack on a corner of your desk or in a bin nearby. But do a quick flip through and stack the items by priority, so that you’re staying ahead of deadlines!
If you’re like me and staring at a rather large To Do stack, let’s sort that stack into action files!
We’re going to organize our To Do items based on the NEXT action required on that item. For example, if you’re working on a report with a colleague, and you’re waiting for your colleague to edit what you’ve already written, your NEXT action might be to follow up with your colleague to see if he/she has had a chance to complete the editing. You’d put that item in a “To Call/Write” action file. Or, if you only recently handed the edits off to your colleague, your next action may be to wait until he/she is finished with the edits, so that item would go in a “Waiting for a Response” action file.
Here are a few basic action file categories to get you started:
- To Pay – where you place items related to account payables.
- To File – an action folder where you store items that can’t be filed immediately.
- Errands – for items related to errands that need to be run in the near future.
- To Call/Write – for papers that require a phone call, email, or letter.
- Waiting for a Response – for items on which, you guessed it, you’re awaiting a response. This is especially helpful when someone returns your phone call days or weeks after you left your message and you’ve forgotten why you called them! #beenthere #donethat 😉
I also have action files for each family member. I place items I need to discuss with a specific family member in his or her respective file. Then, I have a regular time built into my schedule to address these action folders with my husband and kids.
Before you start sorting, write each of the above action file categories on a sticky note, then arrange them in a way that makes sense for you. You may need to create additional labels as you sort, but for now, you’re ready to get started with these basic action file categories!
Sort Your To Do Stack
Start sorting your To Do stack! Work for 15 minutes, take a break, then repeat if you have the time and the energy.
For each item ask yourself, “What is the NEXT action I need to take on this item?” Do you need to call someone? Do more research? Send a payment? Run an errand? Or wait for information from another person?
You’ll likely find items related to the suggested action files above. You may also find additional items that don’t fit into any of the categories mentioned above. Create new action files for items specific to your business. For example, if you are a network marketer, you might require an action file for the members of your team or current company or team promotions. If you’re a blogger, you might need an action file for upcoming post research.
Keep sorting in 15 minute blocks until your To Do stack is a thing of the past!
Once I’ve sorted all of To Do items, I review the action piles I’ve created, verify that I don’t have any duplicates, make sure I don’t have so many action files that it’s overwhelming, or so few that they aren’t descriptive enough to tell me exactly what action I need to take next.
Then I create my actual Action Files!
*If an item requires numerous steps to complete, you may find it helpful to use a Project Planner to remind yourself of the steps required, track your progress, and to stay organized. Grab your Project Planner HERE. But remember, you always file the item under the NEXT action required!
Create and Store Your Action Files
Because they require some sort of action on our part, we want to keep action files in view and within arm’s reach, if possible. That way they can act as a reminder, and because the item/s we need are right there, it’s easy to complete the task.
Where you store your action files will depend on the set up of your home office and desk, daily schedule, and available space.
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There are many different ways to create and store your Action Files!
- Use hanging folders and put them in a file box that fits on the corner of your desk.
- Put them in file folders and store them in a tray, bin, or basket.
- Use hanging folders and keep them in a Tickler File (learn more HERE).
- Keep them in your file drawer, but ONLY if you’ll remember to look at them and take action on them regularly!
- Use file folders and store them in a file sorter, like this one.
- Swap out standard file folders for vertical ones and use a space-saving magazine organizer.
- Keep your items in a project organizer like this one and keep it on the corner of your desk.
Find a system that works for you, your available home office space, and your daily schedule!
Dealing with Deadlines
If any of your action items have specific deadlines associated with them, you can make a note to yourself on your calendar, in your planner, and/or on a sticky note on the front of your Action File. Give yourself enough lead time, so that you can complete the action item by the deadline!
You can also assign self-imposed deadlines as another way to remind yourself to follow up, check in, or complete an item. For example, the other day I asked my husband if he wanted to attend a conference with me. He needed to check his calendar, which he didn’t have with him. I made a note in my calendar to check in with him the next morning while we had coffee.
A Tickler File is also an amazing tool for items associated with deadlines, whether external or self-imposed. Learn more HERE!
Batch Processing with Action Files
One of the biggest benefits of using action files is that you can batch process items and increase your productivity!
If you’re making a phone call, you can likely make several phone calls quickly as long as you have the papers required to make the call handy. Or, if you’re filing one item, you can file many quickly as long as they’re all together.
An Action File Routine
Although I often have deadlines noted on my calendar or planner, I also like to flip through my Action Files at least once a day.
Sometimes I can file, recycle, or shred an item, because in the course of the day it was handled. Sometimes I discover I took the next action but didn’t move the item. This daily check-in helps me to stay on top of deadlines and familiar with the items that are in my action files.
You may find that you only need to check your Action Files every other day, twice a week, or once a week. But as always when we’re talking about routines, the important thing is to complete your action file check-in consistently.
And that’s how to use action files to manage to-do’s! Action files will not only help you to manage the paper clutter associated with your to-do’s, they will help you to increase your productivity by keeping your to-do’s and associated items all together and in view.
Later this week, we’ll tackle our “To File” pile and create a filing system that works for you!
Don’t forget to pin it!
Organize Your Files Week Series
This post is part of the Organize Your Files Week series. Here are the other posts in the series:
If you enjoyed today’s post, you might find these related posts helpful:
- 5 Easy Ways to Set Up a Home Office Inbox
- 3 Essential Routines for Home Office Organization
- Eliminate Paper Clutter for Good!
Thanks for joining me for Organize Your Files Week! Here’s to getting our home offices organized and free of paper clutter!