How to Never Lose a Thing Again

Recently I posted my new twist on the excellent GTD system, Zen To Done (ZTD): The Ultimate Simple Productivity System. This is the sixth in a series of posts exploring each of the 10 Habits

This is one of the oldest organizing truisms around, but it is probably the most important of all: a place for everything, and everything in its place.

Why is it so popular? Because it works. Read below to find out how to form this habit and never lose a thing again.

ZTD Habit 6: organize — a place for everything.

Are there papers scattered all over your desk? Do you look for your car keys every day? Do you know, at this moment, where every single thing in your life is?

Your life can be completely organized with one single rule: put everything in its home. It’s a habit I’m trying to teach to my kids, so I don’t have to keep picking up after them all the time, and because it’s one of the most useful habits I’ve ever formed.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Have a system. Put all incoming papers in your inbox (at work and home). Process that inbox, either doing the tasks, putting them on a to-do list (and in an action folder), filing them, forwarding them, or trashing them. With this system, there’s never any question as to what to do — you’ve got a limited set of options.
  • Find a home: If you’re about to put something down on your countertop, or table, or desk, or toss it on your couch or bed, think about this: is that where it belongs? Where is it’s home? If it doesn’t already have a home, find one. Designate a spot for that item or type of item. Car keys? Have one place where you put the keys, all the time. Dirty clothes? They don’t go on your bed. Handcuffs? Put them in that special box in your closet marked “Taxes”.
  • Simple filing system: Once you’ve processed papers out of your inbox, you’ll need a place to put them if you need to reference them later. Don’t have a bunch of files stacked somewhere — create a simple filing system (alphabetical is easiest, although you could sort by hexadecimal instead if you’re a geek). Always have blank labels and folders on hand so you can quickly make a new file if needed, and don’t be afraid to make new files. Never have a Miscellaneous file. You might as well call it the Procrastination file.
  • Put it away immediately. Yes, I know, you were going to put it away later. It’s just sitting there until you can get to it. Well, after awhile, “later” creates piles and messes. Don’t wait until later. Do it now!
  • Make it a habit. Putting things where they belong is not something that’s going to happen overnight. You’ll forget, or get lazy. To really make it stick, you need to focus on that habit for 30 days. Do a 30-day challenge, concentrating your energy on it until it becomes automatic.
  • Pay attention to transitions. The time between when you’re doing one thing and when you’re doing the next thing is a transition. This is the time when you should put stuff away where it belongs and clean up your mess, but it’s also a time when we’re not thinking about that stuff and only thinking about what we’re going to do next (or the next episode of Gilmore Girls). While you’re working on your Everything In Its Place habit, pay close attention to transitions. Awareness of these transitions will make it easier to remember to put things away.
  • Keep flat surfaces clear. Never toss something on a countertop, table, desktop, bed, dresser top, coffee table, or the floor. If you do, catch yourself, and find another home for it. In fact, while you’re at it, clear off all these flat surfaces, tossing half the stuff and finding homes for the rest. Ahhh! Isn’t that nice? Who knew there was a desk under there?
  • Label. These are the organizer’s best friend. Have a label maker on hand, or at least some blank labels, and label containers or boxes, so you know the home of everything. I tried labeling my wife and kids but they didn’t take well to it.
  • Evaluate. Every now and then, it’s good to review your organization of everything. Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to have something in one room when you usually use it in another. Sometimes, it’s good to get three pairs of scissors if you use them frequently in three different rooms. Sometimes you need to declutter or re-organize a drawer or closet. Revisiting these things periodically will help keep things together.

If you ever lose a thing again, go back to the above tips, and work on them some more. If you never lose a thing again, think about how much time and money you’ve saved. If that happens, feel free to send me a check.

See also:

  • Zen To Done (ZTD): The Ultimate Simple Productivity System
  • ZTD Habit 1: Collect
  • ZTD Habit 2: Process
  • ZTD Habit 3: Plan
  • ZTD Habit 4: Do
  • ZTD Habit 5: Simple, trusted system
  • Forming the 10 ZTD Habits
  • ZTD Minimalist System

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