Zero Piles

Do you have a bunch of piles on your desk? How about around your home or even in your email inbox?

With the fast pace of business and life, piles can accumulate with frightening speed – piles of paperwork, books, notes, email, and miscellaneous tasks.

Even the most random piles are most often comprised of only two things – delayed tasks and decisions (AKA procrastinated tasks and decisions).

How to zero-out piles quickly

  1. Eliminate half your pile before it even accumulates. You can eliminate at least half your pile before it even hits the pile by making decisions real-time. This means nothing goes in the pile until you’ve decided what needs to be done with it.

    Before: You grab the stack of mail and you put in the pile.

    Now: You grab the stack of mail and open all of it. You pull out things that require action (scan, file, pay the bill, read it) and recycle all the rest. Now, your pile only consists of action items. If it will take less than 2 minutes to read it, do it real-time and recycle it. If you have a large quantity, separate your scan/file from your action items or write the needed action on the document (scan/file/call/pay).

    Believe it or not, all of this only takes a few minutes.

  1. Clear out your piles consistently. Set-up time to clear out your piles with regular frequency. This will depend on the urgency of content and how quickly the pile accumulates. For example, my home pile I process only once a week on Saturday mornings. It’s usually super fast and easy because it only contains action items. My work email, on the other hand, I address a few times a day.

    Tip: Don’t let your piles go for more than one week. You’ve already made the decision of what needs to be done. If you wait too long, you’ll have to figure it out all over again, doubling your work. Also, the longer you wait, the more accumulates, making it a daunting and arduous task. By keeping your pile easy (because you’ve already decided what needs to be done with it) and small, you’ll set yourself up for success.

As you go through these steps, it’s going to be tempting to put off decisions and actions until later. But, don’t give in! Force yourself to make the decision, write the response, read the document, and so on, so you don’t have to process the item again later. You can read more about this in my post Let’s Play a Game.