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Person face on a desk, bunch of files on each other

I’m a busy guy. First, there are my companies:  Nolan Painting, Summit, Sayville Running Company, and Cricket Holding Co.  Then there is my involvement with the Chamber where I am the Vice-Chair of the Board, a chairman of 3 committees, and a regular member on 3 other committees.  There are also all my daily issues- employees (I have over 60), customer issues, or for the charities I support, or the house I am building or the Homeowners association I am the president of. There are my 4 kids and my wife and however, they impact me. Ok, I am overwhelmed when I start listing it all and it mixes together in my mind and I start to freak out.

I must stay organized in order to process all the information that keeps coming in. Stephen Covey uses the terms “Urgent” and “Important” to describe the things we do. He says, too often we spend our time doing things that SEEM Urgent, and are not always important. I agree. To help me keep focused on the right things, I use a briefcase and folders.

My first briefcase was a hand me down from my grandfather. I now have a small collection. I keep one in my car with maps, color charts, brochures, extra business cards, breath mints, etc.  It’s basically a holding pen for extra stuff.  I have another one that I actually use day-to-day. I carry it from my truck to the office; back to the truck; to my home; to meetings at the Chamber, and everywhere I go. Maybe I just carry it because makes me feel important, but I don’t think so.

So, how do I use my briefcase to make sense of it all?  Well, as David Allen said in Getting it Done,  “You have to manage your inbox.”  When the world is constantly producing things that you must process, you must manage how it comes in. It does not always have to be dealt with right away but it does have to put in a “secure receptacle” for later processing.  My strategy has been to use colored folders. Red (Immediate Action Items), Yellow (Human Resources), Green (Finance), Blue (Summit). Recently I have had to double up on some colors. I also use purple, black, and plain old manila.

Over time, I have added some complexity. The folders in my briefcase got real thick with older stuff. So, I keep two sets of files. One set in my briefcase in an accordion file and one set in my desk drawer. I use matching folders. So I have a blue (plastic) Summit File in my briefcase and a blue (paper) file in my desk drawer. I put stuff in my briefcase files that I have not processed or I need to keep handy. In my desk, I keep processed or referenced material.

As a result of all this, when I see a piece of floating paper on my desk, I know what to do with it. I put it in one of these folders and COME BACK TO IT LATER when it’s important. This keeps my desk clear and my mind focused.  Using this technique has helped me process more and more information and handle more and more projects without dropping the ball, looking for papers all the time or having my mind explode.

The Key Points Here Are These—

First, too often we spend our time on things that seem Urgent but are not really important (at least not right now). In Summit, we call these things “Shiny Lures.”   By using folders, I can put things I need to do (sticky notes, slips of paper, reminders) into a secure place — AND COME BACK TO IT LATER. What’s more, I usually have some type of meeting with my people to match each folder – a Finance Folder for the Finance Meeting. When I put something in the Finance folder, I can come back to it just before the meeting, open the folder and say, “Oh, yea. That’s what I wanted to talk about.”

Second, this system allows me to empty my brain! There is no way I can do all the things I do, and try to keep it all in my head. Believe it or not, neither can you!  Give your brain a rest by putting some folders in your briefcase or satchel, and filling them with the things you need to do. Second, schedule yourself a weekly meeting to review these things with your people. Even better – delegate them to your people.  I promise you will find yourself more organized!

All the Best!
– Kevin

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