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Clutter. Clutter of the mind, clutter of the desk, clutter of the computer. All of it gets in the way, and all of it is our fault.

Edwin C. Bliss, author of time management texts of yore, suggested that people made a big mistake when deciding whether or not to keep something, like a document or file. The erring folk asked, “Will I conceivably ever need this again?”, and because ‘conceivably’ is always, er, conceivable, it gets filed away for ever. Clutter.

Bliss suggested asking a different question. He proposed asking the question, “If I lost this, what would I do?”

If the answer was ‘shrug’, he’d bin it. Alternatively, the mind would be directed towards finding a solution to finding the potentially lost, and the imagination would present answers as to how to minimise the need or facility for retrieval.

Of course, we now have The Cloud (a.k.a. someone else’s reliable and secure – honest – computer), and memory sticks (my preferred option). But the problem with these can be the same if we aren’t careful – we just gather sticks and clutter them, instead.

So the time management advice of the day is to manage your retrieval system by first of all only putting into it what you absolutely know would be irretrievable if you didn’t, but also to name the files in such a way as to find them easily when you do need them.

In the front office at Newport Central Police Station in Gwent, there was a computer. By virtue of its location it was used by everyone who needed to write something quickly for prisoner handovers, reports, whatever. Anyone using this desktop was presented with a screen containing shortcuts to Doc1. Not just one Doc1, but somehow to a plethora of Doc1s. Notwithstanding my confusion as to how many Doc1s a computer could create, how and why they managed to save them to the Desktop screen instead of the document folder I will never understand: but the question also arose as to how long anyone would take to find ‘their’ Doc1 if they needed it again?

Giving a saved file a searchable, relevant name is important, and there is no limit to how long that name could be (within reason). Once the immediate need for access is over, stick it somewhere safe, accessible but out of the way. Stick, cloud, external drive, whatever suits. Learn how to use the search function on the documents and other folder windows (you’d be surprised how few people know how that works).

But don’t have your file icons cluttering your folders, desktop or laptop screen or desk (in the case of paper), dragging your attention away from the truly important, needed stuff. Your mind is for thinking. Not for managing files.

Do it Now.


For more on the subject, and other time management advice, buy this book, available from Amazon.