Manage Active Projects Without Piles

project clutter

Is your desk covered with piles of papers that are relevant and urgent…things you’re “working on?” Most everyone has a mix of To-Do’s and actual projects that require more than one step to complete.

Active projects are different than other kinds of To-Do’s or papers because they usually are a mix of action items and reference materials. They may include checklists, timelines, research, drafts, and proposals.

They are active enough that it makes sense to keep them right at hand or they won’t be kept forever, just for the duration of the project.

Some examples –

  • Event planning
  • Kid summer camp planning: Printouts or brochures of possible camps, registration forms, vacation schedules
  • College searches & applications
  • Tax prep
  • Travel planning: May include articles about particular hotels or sites, schedules, reservation printouts
  • Minor or major house projects: Estimates, budgets, material samples or ideas, schedules, drawings.
  • Work or volunteer project


A pile is OK if you have a dedicated space for it that doesn’t interfere with your regular workspace, but the point of having a dedicated home is it keeps the project out of the way of other business and it keeps other business from getting mixed into the project materials. Using a container vs. a loose pile lets you label the categories…and the project itself.

Choose a container that you like and fits well in your space. It may make sense to use different types of containers for different types of projects:

  • Magazine holders
  • Binders
  • Pocket Folders
  • Letter paper tray
  • Plastic filing tub – good for large volume projects

If a project has enough different parts and volume of paper, use categories to subdivide it. You can use actual file folders to group categories, post-its, separate containers.

Here are some of the project containers we recommend:


A digital folder is a perfect container for projects. Plus, you can add subfolders if needed to break things up even more. For projects that have a mix of different types of digital files – photos, video, websites, and documents, programs such as Evernote are useful tools.


Once a project is finished, don’t forget to weed it before filing any long-term keepers. In the summer camp example, you may want to keep flyers from camps that you didn’t choose this year but want to remember as possibilities for next year – these could live in a “Kid Activities” file in your system. Same goes for travel ideas. Construction projects always have lots of keepers – final permits, contracts, change orders, records of payments, final plans. OK to toss drafts and duplicates.

Now you can celebrate a successful completion with a clean desk…ready for the next project!




Filed under Decluttering

4 responses to “Manage Active Projects Without Piles

  1. Carolyn Rosado

    You must have seen my desk! Thanks for the “push” to get this stuff organized.

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