[4 Minute Read or Listen Below]
Times of transition can be upsetting, frustrating, and overwhelming. Even if the change is positive, we feel we've lost our footing and cannot regain our balance. A variety of situations can make us feel this way: a job change, a residential move, a corporate acquisition, just to name a few.
While some would claim they are confining, systems free the mind to focus on other things, including change. If we have systems in place, it can make the transition through change easier and our recovery quicker.
Many felt change very acutely with the en-mass shift to working from home due to COVID-19. The sudden change in work surroundings left many feeling lost and unsettled. It highlights that systems and routines are essential. We need systems for the circumstances we know, and we need them even more for the events we can't anticipate.
The Oxford dictionary defines a system as "a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized framework or method." When you have established for yourself how to handle information in a way that makes it easily retrievable later, you have indeed found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The hallmark of an effective system is that it is not situation-dependent. We can be at home just about anywhere when following an established system. It acts as an anchor that allows us to feel more grounded and flexible to roll with the changes. We can maintain the mental bandwidth to assess and navigate new surroundings.
The most rock-solid foundational information management system I have found is The Magic 6™ from Productive Environment Institute. These six non-negotiable tools must be in place and readily accessible. Each of the elements on its own is simple. But combined, they are the underlying powerhouse that supports the rest of the system.
When you streamline the number of places you need to look for something and define its purpose, it will be easier to locate information more quickly later.
The Magic 6™ consists of:
Let's dive deeper into each element.
Position three stackable trays on your desk.
In - One will be for information that has come into your office but you have not yet processed.
Out - The second is for items that need to go someplace else.
To File - The third is for documents you need to file in your office, but the location is not easily accessible from your chair.
If you don't care for traditional stackable desktop trays, express your style by using baskets, shelves, even dividers of some kind. A benefit of the stackable trays is they take up a smaller footprint. But it's more important that you use them! And if you like them, you are more likely to use them.
Wastebasket / Recycling / Shredding
Make it as easy as possible to get rid of what you don't need!
The wastebasket is for anything that is indeed trash.
If your community supports recycling, this is an eco-friendly way to discard magazines, newspapers, flyers, junk mail, and some documents.
Shredding is for items containing sensitive information like social security numbers, credit card numbers, and medical information.
Calendar / Planner
Your calendar or planner can help solve the problem of accumulating sticky notes and little slips of paper everywhere meant to remind you of things to do and places to go.
Paper, digital, or a combination of the two is entirely up to you.
Contact Management / CRM
Do you have names, email addresses, and phone numbers floating all over your desk or hiding in your email messages? Contact management is key to finding information when you need to reach out to someone.
If your contacts are primarily friends and family, using the contacts app on your phone or the address pages in your planner may do very nicely.
If you need something more sophisticated, a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) helps you manage interaction with current and potential clients. It can also track your sales process and customer history.
These files should be easily accessible from your desk. They relate to current projects and their associated paper information.
Store action files three ways:
These are documents you don't need daily, but you don't want to throw them away.
As I mentioned earlier, they all sound simple but don't let that deceive you about their effectiveness. Over the years, I used many of these elements independently. When I started using them in combination, the result was incredibly impactful. These elements can be adapted and applied to digital information, as well, making them highly versatile.
For those with systems and routines that are muscle memory, feelings of disruption are minor and very short-lived. Establishing systems will be much more challenging if you wait until you're already inundated and out of control. The best time to develop them is before you're overwhelmed. Make the time, and seek assistance if you need it.
Life is unpredictable. Be better prepared to navigate change by having an established information management system already in place.
If you’d like help setting up your information management system, contact me here.
The Magic 6™ ©2005-2021 Productive Environment Institute | Used under license to Kathy Muzik