How to Use Action Files to Manage To-Do’s

Managing our to-do’s and projects and the plethora of items associated with them is a challenging task that, when handled ineffectively, creates clutter and disorganization on our desks and in our home offices. But there’s a simple, versatile solution that will work with any home business. Today, I’m showing you how to use action files to manage to-do’s!

How to Use Action Files to Manage To-Do’s

Welcome to week 2 of our Conquer Office Paper Clutter series!

Last week, we got a jump start on conquering office paper clutter by gathering all of our loose papers and sorting them into 4 basic categories: To Do, To Read, To File, and Trash/Recycle/Shred.

Today, we’re going to tackle one of those sorted stacks, the To Do pile, and organize all of those tasks into action files. Let’s talk about how to use action files to manage to-do’s!

*If you missed last week’s post, you can read it HERE and take your first step to conquering office paper clutter. Then, come back here and complete today’s tasks!

What are Action Files?

Action files (also called current files) hold any papers that require our attention or that require us to do something. That could include a proposal request that needs fulfilled, a report that needs written, or papers associated with an in-progress project.

We need action files at our fingertips, so that we can take the required action in a timely manner.

How to Create Action Files

In order to create action files that are relevant for you and your business, you’re going to sort the To Do stack you created last week into more specific categories (if you missed it, read last week’s post HERE).

If your To Do stack is fairly small, you may feel comfortable skipping this round of sorting and storing your to-do stack on a corner of your desk or in a folder or bin nearby. But do a quick flip through and stack the items by priority, so that you’re staying ahead of deadlines!

If you’re like me and staring at a rather large To Do stack, let’s sort that stack into action files!

We’re going to organize our to do items based on the NEXT action required on that item.

For example, if you’re working on a report with a colleague, and you’re waiting for your colleague to edit what you’ve already written, your NEXT action might be to follow up with your colleague to see if they’ve had a chance to complete the editing. You’d put that item in a “To Call/Write” action file.

Or, if you only recently handed the edits off to your colleague, your next action may be to wait until they’re finished with the edits, so that item would go in a “Waiting for a Response” action file.

Here are a few basic action file categories to get you started:

  • To Pay – where you place items related to account payables.
  • To File – an action file where you store items that can’t be filed immediately.
  • Errands – for items related to errands that need to be run in the near future.
  • To Call/Write – for papers that require a phone call or email.
  • Waiting for a Response – for items on which, you guessed it, you’re awaiting a response. This is especially helpful when someone returns your phone call days or weeks after you left your message and you’ve forgotten why you called them! #beenthere #donethat 😉

I also have action files for each family member. I place items I need to discuss with a specific family member in his or her respective file. Then, I have a regular time built into my schedule to address these action files with my family members.

Before you start sorting, write each of the above action file categories on a sticky note, then arrange them in a way that makes sense for you. You may need to create additional labels as you sort, but for now, you’re ready to get started with these basic action file categories!

Sort Your To Do Stack

Start sorting your To Do papers! Work for 15 minutes, take a break, then repeat if you have the time and the energy.

For each item ask yourself, “What is the NEXT action I need to take on this item?”

Do you need to call someone?

Do more research?

Send a payment?

Run an errand?

Or wait for information from another person?

You’ll likely find items related to the suggested action files. You may also find additional items that don’t fit into any of the categories mentioned above. Create new action files for items specific to your business.

For example, if you provide a service, you might require an action file for client or customer related tasks.

If you have a team of people working for you, you may need an action file for each team member and/or a team specific action file.

If you’re a blogger, you might need an action file for upcoming post research.

Keep sorting in 15-minute blocks until your to do stack is a thing of the past!

Once you’ve sorted all of your to do items, review the action piles you created, then verify that you don’t have any duplicates. Also, make sure you don’t have so many action files that it’s overwhelming or so few that they aren’t descriptive enough to tell you exactly what action you need to take next.

Now, it’s time to actually create your Action Files!

*If an item requires numerous steps to complete, you may find it helpful to use a Project Planner to remind yourself of the steps required, track your progress, and to stay organized. You can grab a Project Planner in our Printables Vault. Get access HERE!

Create and Store Your Action Files

Because they require action on our part, we want to keep action files in view and within arm’s reach, if possible. That way they can act as a reminder, and because the item/s we need are right there, it’s easy to complete the task.

Where you store your action files will depend on the set up of your home office and desk, daily schedule, and available space.

This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. Click HERE to read my full disclosure policy. As always, my favorable opinions of versatile office organizing supplies are 100% my own. I only recommend products that I use and love!

There are many different ways to create and store your Action Files!

You could:

Find a system that works for you, your available home office space, and your daily schedule!

You know I like to make things pretty, so I use printable decorative labels (grab a set for yourself in our Printables Vault) and my Brother P-Touch Label Maker to label my Action Files!

Dealing with Deadlines

If any of your action items have specific deadlines associated with them, you can make a note to yourself on your calendar, in your planner, and/or on a sticky note on the front of your Action File. Give yourself enough lead time, so that you can complete the action item by the deadline!

You can also assign self-imposed deadlines as another way to remind yourself to follow up, check in, or complete an item.

A Tickler File is another amazing tool for items associated with deadlines, whether external or self-imposed. Learn more: Get Organized with a Tickler File.

Batch Processing with Action Files

One of the biggest benefits of using action files is that you can batch process items and increase your productivity!

If you’re making a phone call, you can likely make several phone calls quickly as long as you have the paper/s and information required to make the call. Or, if you’re filing one item, you can file many quickly as long as they’re all together.

An Action File Routine

Although I often have deadlines noted on my calendar or planner, I also like to flip through my Action Files at least once a day.

Sometimes I can file, recycle, or shred an item, because in the course of the day it was handled. Sometimes I discover I took the next action but didn’t move the item to the next action file. This daily check-in helps me to stay on top of deadlines and familiar with the items that are in my action files.

You may find that you only need to check your Action Files every other day, twice a week, or once a week. But as always when we’re talking about routines, the important thing is to complete your action file check-in consistently.

How to Use Action Files to Manage To-Do’s

And that’s how to use action files to manage to-do’s!

Action files will not only help you to manage the paper clutter associated with your to-do’s, they will help you to increase your productivity by keeping your to-do’s and associated items all together and in view.

Next in our Conquer Office Paper Clutter series, we’ll tackle our “To File” pile and create a filing system that works for you!

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Conquer Office Paper Clutter Series

This post is part of the Conquer Office Paper Clutter series. Here are the other posts in the series:

Thanks for joining me for this installment in the Conquer Office Paper Clutter series! Here’s to getting our home offices organized and free of paper clutter!

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