How can you avoid an ocean of clutter? Use the RRAFFT Method.
This simple method works for all informational materials including papers files and digital email.
Step 1: Review the information within 24 hours of receiving it. Do your very best to avoid allowing a stack to accumulate. This is a short review. If available, read the executive summary or abstract. The short Review process should be a three to five minute perusal period.
Step 2: After this quick review session, you make a decision on the next step and then take the appropriate action.
- Read: If this material is highly relevant to your mission, goals, or projects, and due to the sheer length or depth of the content, it will take longer than five minutes to digest fully; the best action is to add this to your reading materials for the week. I have found that using a tickler file or scheduling reading time with my calendar system is essential to insure that I will find time to read detailed emails, articles, etc. Of course, after completing this longer piece, you still may need to do one of the other steps with it (Act, Forward, File, or Toss).
- Act: It is not uncommon for a memo, report, or new piece of information that will result in a new epiphany which inspires one to act ASAP. If something is hyper-critical, you should make sure you act right away. Some items will require a follow-up, a response, a phone call, an email, a letter, or meeting. If you cannot act immediately, make sure you include this intention in your schedule or add it to your daily task list.
- Forward: There are two types of ‘forwards’. One is information sharing where something is sent to a friend, client, colleague, or manager just as a FYI. The other kind is when something does require some actions, so it is delegated to someone else. This is often a direct report or someone else who is directly responsible for a different part of the organization. If something is delegated, make sure the end-goal and deadline is well-communicated as well. Then, conduct a follow-up to insure that the anticipated action has been completed.
- File: If no action is needed, you need to evaluate if you really need to store this information for future reference. Be critical about archiving as the majority of documents will never be retrieved! Some studies suggest that 80% of all filed documents will be removed from the system only during a purge years later. If you are fairly certain you’ll need it again and it is not something that can easily be obtained from another source, then save it and give it a home in an alphabetic filing system. Finally, if there is a legal reason to retain a certain document, by all means, follow the law.
- Toss: Use this maxim: when in doubt, throw it out! Spam is not just an email phenomenon. I am sure you are already all too aware that a good portion of the paper that flows to your workspace is really garbage as it is not relevant to you. Use the circular filing cabinet daily to keep clutter from overtaking your desk. Do not be surprised if over 50% of the items are trashed after the review step.
The RRAFFT method should help you quickly process each item and take the next needed step. After a few weeks of using RRAFFT, your work area will be significantly more open and you will be more productive.