How to Apply the ABC123 System to the Clutter Around You

The FranklinPlanner method of task management is to prioritize your tasks with the ABC 123 method—setting apart the things of greatest importance to help ensure you are putting your greatest efforts toward the things that matter most to you. A version of this method will also work wonders for your work space. Here’s how.

Just as we sort our tasks by priority: A—Critical, B—Important, and C—low value, we can arrange our work space with the same principles in mind.

desk organizingOrganizing our work space is much easier if we keep the four quadrants of the Time Matrix in mind. Quadrant One is the time we spend working on tasks that are urgent and important. It’s a stressful way to work because important matters require our best attention, but the urgency of the moment makes it incredibly difficult to slow down and focus on details. In quadrant one, a minor set back can feel like a disaster.

Quadrant two is the time we spend on important tasks that aren’t yet urgent. That is where we’d like to spend most of our time. Working on important tasks before they become urgent allows time for set backs without the angst. In this quadrant, we can focus on details and create our best work.

Quadrant three is the time we spend working on urgent tasks that aren’t important. We do this more often than we think—each time we drop what we’re doing to answer a text message, step away from our work to listen to a co-worker rant about their weekend, or slip out the door to help a neighbor with a project. These tasks are often good, but they aren’t urgent to us. They are urgent and important to someone else. We can never eliminate these interruptions because relationships matter, but often we can postpone them until a more convenient or appropriate time.

Quadrant four is the time that we squander or waste. Don’t confuse this with entertainment and recreation. All of us need time to relax, in fact, recreation is important. But things like aimlessly flipping through television channels, surfing the web, mindless distractions, and procrastination all find their way into quadrant four when they devour too much of our time. We all have our favorite distractions. But we need to decide how much of our lives we are going to sacrifice to them.

The time matrix makes it easier to prioritize the tasks we work on each day. We’ll schedule our A, B, and C tasks, and try to avoid spending too much time in D-istractions.

With that refresher in mind, let’s tackle our work space.

We all have varying degrees of acceptable clutter in our work space, but we can all agree that clutter makes life difficult. Clutter is like static that makes it hard to focus on what is most important. If we’re searching through clutter to find an important paper, we’re wasting valuable time and energy, and increasing our stress levels. So the solution is to organize your space by priority.

You are the most important part of your work space, so the most important tools, tasks, and projects—you’re A-priority stuff—should be closest to you. Less important items should be placed in concentric circles around and beyond that point. Place your B items at arms length and in side drawers, C items beyond that, and your D items, of course, end up in the trash or filed away for safekeeping. Be sure, however, that you aren’t filing away waste.

The first step to organizing your space is to gather all the paper that is cluttering your work space and stack it in your “A” space. Then sort through all those loose papers and create four stacks labeled A, B, C, and D.

A = Must be done—Critical

B = Should be done—Important

C = Could be done—low value

D = Waste—No value

Keep your “A” papers in your “A” space and sort them by priority, 1, 2, 3, etc. Organize the rest outward from there. File your D stack in the trash can or recycle bin. You may even consider using separate paper trays for each priority. As you work, try to keep your Critical tray empty so you have time to focus on those items that are Important but not urgent. Paperwork will keep coming. If you organize each paper as it arrives, you could find yourself constantly interrupted. Instead, set aside time each day to review and organize your papers. It will only take a minute or two, and you’ll keep your work space clutter free.

Keeping a priority-based system of organization in your work space helps ensure that each time you handle a paper, you’ll do something important with it. That’s how tasks get accomplished in an orderly and timely manner without cluttering your space.

It doesn’t take long to see the intrinsic value of the Franklin Planning System. It can be applied to almost anything we do from scheduling our tasks within our day, to organizing our work space, and even project management and workflow. If we always keep the main thing the main thing, and plan accordingly, we’ll find that we draw closer to our goals in each aspect of our lives.

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