Next Steps: Important for Keeping a Clear Desk

How many papers are sitting on your desk right now?

Have you given much thought to why they’re sitting there?  What’s keeping them from being processed / moving off of your desk?

Typically when papers pile up on my desk, or a client’s desk it’s because the next step that needs to be taken is either not identified or identified but it hasn’t been addressed.  I thought about this today when completing a rebate form.  The photo above shows all of the pieces that had to be in place just to process this one $10 rebate.

Rebates used to be easy:  Fill out the form, circle the price on the receipt, put them in an addressed envelope that you stamp and mail. This $10 rebate however involved the following steps:

  1. logging onto a website,
  2. inputting a code from a coupon into the website,
  3. inputting a number from the invoice related to the purchase of the item,
  4. printing out a form,
  5. making a copy of the invoice and attaching it to the form
  6. filling in additional information on the form,
  7. obtaining and addressing an envelope and finally,
  8. stamping and mailing the envelope.

Any one of these next steps could hang someone up and result in papers sitting on the desk (i.e. trouble accessing the website, misplacing the coupon or the invoice, finding yourself low on ink and unable to print the form, or being out of envelopes or stamps)  Lots of steps mean lots of opportunities for projects to go awry and lots of opportunities for unprocessed papers to sit around.

Ok, so this is an overly simplified example, but processing this rebate is analogous to any other project.  So how do you get around incomplete next steps getting in your way?

  • First, familiarize yourself with the entire project before you start. Get a feel for each of the steps. Do you have on hand everything required?  In this case: an envelope, stamp, the invoice, a copy of the invoice, the coupon code, a printer with ink and access to the internet.  If not, you now have an opportunity to gather what is needed in order to get you started.
  • Next, make sure you understand all of the steps in the process.  How will you start, what order do the steps need to be taken in?  If you find you don’t have a good understanding going into the process, now is the best time to clarify what you’ll be doing, asking questions of others if necessary.
  • Third, know what completion of the process looks like.  Completion for me was putting the envelope in the mailbox.  This will let you know when you’re truly done and can put away everything related to the project.

If you have papers languishing on your desk try the following Next Steps exercise:

Select a paper that’s been sitting there awhile and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What project does this paper relate to?  Note it on the paper if it’s not obvious 
  2. What is the next step that needs to be taken with this piece of paper?   Document the action that needs to be taken in your planning system so it’s not forgotten and file the paper in a tickler or pending file of some sort so you can readily access it when it’s needed.
  3. Can’t answer one or two? Go back and ask yourself: What are the steps in the project this paper relates to?  Where does this paper fit into those steps?  If there is no response to these questions for a particular piece of paper, ask yourself if you really need it.  

I hope this post has given you pause for thought when it comes to the papers that are surrounding you.  What next step might you take today to reduce the number of papers on your desk?





2 Responses to “Next Steps: Important for Keeping a Clear Desk”

  1. Ellen Delap May 21, 2013 8:26 am #

    Love this post! It is often the number of steps or one step that goes haywire that makes for a cluttered desk. Having three questions to help you make a decision about that paper will move you forward, especially if it is to toss it.

    • Andrea Sharb May 21, 2013 9:31 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Ellen. Amazing the difference that three little questions can make when it comes to forward progress with a project. Best, Andrea

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