Managing Paper Work – The TRAF System

Today we’re going to talk about the TRAF system. I’ve talked about it before and it’s extremely important to your time management, life effectiveness, and peace of mind.

Every piece  of incoming data into your life, be it an email, text, voice mail, piece of paper, piece of snail mail, receipt, or whatever must be run through the TRAF system. You should start getting into the habit of using TRAF automatically whenever a new item appears in your life.

There are only four valid things you need to do with an incoming item:

T – Trash. Throw it away or delete it immediately.

R – Refer. Forward it to someone else to handle it.

A – Action. Create a new item on your to do list to deal with the item later.

F – File. File or archive the item for retrieval later.

Notice that “Read it and then leave it there so you’ll have to read it again later” is not one of your choices, and that’s the beauty of TRAF.  TRAF forces you to deal with the item productively and immediately, and ideally only once. A few key points on using TRAF:

– Your two favorite items, by far, should be Trash and Refer. The more things you can Trash or Refer, the better your life will be. Make Trashing and Referring your two best friends. Most people are scared to delete stuff or throw stuff away, and this is a huge mistake. I myself was like this for many years.

I worked on it and worked on it, and today I love to throw things away. Deleting huge swaths of emails or throwing away piles of magazines makes me very, very happy. I suggest you adopt a similar attitude.

– People forget that filing (paper) or archiving (digital data) creates work. Before you choose File in TRAF, refocus on the item one more time and ask yourself these two questions: “How bad would things be if I never found this ever again?” and “How easy is it to look up this peice of information if I delete/trash this?”

In a Google/YouTube/Wikipedia cloud-based world, I think you’ll find the vast majority of the time you won’t need to file or archive it at all. TRASH IT! By the way, this is a key skill for your paperless office.

If your item requires Action, and it literally will take you less than two minutes to do it, then pause whatever you’re doing and just do it right now. This is a David Allen technique and it’s quite valid. Adding a task item to your to do list that takes less than two minutes to finish really doesn’t make any sense.

However if it does take more than two minutes, resist the urge to do it now. Instead, add the task to your to do list for scheduling and prioritization later. Very important.

Let me repeat, all of this applies to emails just as much as it applies to papers on your desk.

You’ll experience an immediate boost in productivity the very first time you use TRAF. Give it a shot.

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