Organization Leads To Sanity

1125093_frangipani_on_granite_4After a conversation with another teacher last night, I started looking through the archives. I realized that I have written a few times about having a clean desk and a clean desktop on my computer, but I have never really given a step-by-step guide of how I got there and some of the things I do to maintain that.

If you are not yet familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy, it is a book that covers many personal productivity issues. I have not yet read it, but have read numerous blog posts about it. The most thorough I’ve seen so far is here at the GTD FAQ from Zen Habits. If you have never heard anything about the philosophy and begin using even some parts of it, it will revolutionize much of what you do.


I used to store most new files on my desktop. New programs install icons on the desktop to “make things easier to access.” I don’t buy it. I found a great guide to applying GTD to the computer and have used some of those tips.

  1. Inbox
    I have created an Inbox folder in the My Documents folder. Every download goes here. Every new file I create goes in here. It is the catch-all for my computer. I have a shortcut to the Inbox on my desktop. If it is in the Inbox, then it needs to be moved from there very soon. When I first converted to the system, I moved everything on my desktop into the Inbox.
  2. Actions
    I also created an Actions folder in My Documents which is for things that need to go somewhere else. I am going to get rid of this soon as it does not prove very helpful for me on my computer. I really use the next folder for this purpose.
  3. Current Projects
    All of the files that I am currently working on go in this folder. I have a shortcut to this one on my desktop as well. At school, I have this folder somewhere on my network drive so that I can access it on any computer in the district. I will keep every file from the current school year in a folder here as a mini archive so that they can be accessed from other computers across the network. For instance, if I am at the high school, I can log into a computer, pull up my inventory, and discuss it with the head director there.
  4. Archive
    I have a folder for the 2006-2007 school year. I essentially dump everything from the current year’s folder into the archive the day after the semester ends. I also have folders from 2004-2005, and 2005-2006. I have all of these zipped to conserve disk space. Every time I access something from a previous year, I will copy it to the current projects folder. This keeps an archived copy of whatever I worked on so I can look back and see what I did that made a particular project really successful.
  5. Email
    I go to talk with my secretaries or other band directors or other teachers about stuff and they all seem to have overflowing email inboxes. They look for an email that I sent, and they scroll through their inbox forever. My inbox is cleared out every time I process it. I have an Outlook folder that I have saved on my network drive (again, so it can be accessed across campuses) that I use as my archive. Any email that needs to be archived goes into that. I don’t bother with sorting it because the search and sort features work very well and will allow me to find anything I need in a matter of moments. This is a fun one and one of the best productivity advances I have made in recent years. More on that later.


After I have cleaned up my computer, I have a much easier time working on there. Everything has a place. It’s great. I want to do the same thing with my physical workspace as well. So we’ll go through the same basic steps and see how they apply to my real life work environment.

  1. Inbox
    The key is to have one Inbox. One solitary place that everything new comes into. In an effort to maintain a clear desk, mine is on top of the filing cabinet. The only thing on my desk are my phone and my computer. I am actively seeking a computer desk so that I can get it off of my main work area also. We’ll see how that goes.
  2. Actions
    I have a desk drawer that I use for items that need action. These are not ongoing projects, but they are things that either need to filled out, responded to, filed, or otherwise not thrown away.
  3. Current Projects
    I have manila folders for each current project. When the project is finished, it goes into the archive. Until it is finished, anything that needs to be added to the project goes in the corresponding folder.
  4. Archive
    This is a filing cabinet or a series of filing cabinets. Everything that needs to be kept in hard copy form goes here. I put manila folders into the hanging file folders so if I need to get a file out, I don’t have the file folder there, just the plain ol’ manila folder. It goes into my current projects drawer.
  5. Mail
    I don’t check my mailbox daily. More on this tomorrow. Whenever I check it or someone brings me anything, it goes straight into theInbox. When I process the Inbox, it either goes into actions, current projects, trash, or in the archive.

Tomorrow, we discover how I reduce the number of interruptions and am able to get more done.

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

2 Comments on Organization Leads To Sanity

  1. I like the idea of having and inbox and current projects box. those would work well for me. But the problem with that is I had an inbox that just got full and I never had time to clean it out. Did you schedule a certain time of the day to work on inbox stuff?

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