Junk Drawer


Junk Drawer. If you’re like me, you have a junk drawer (or two or six…) where you throw the things you perceive to have value, but that don’t otherwise have a logical home. The random tool or device, souvenir, pad of paper, maybe a photo or package of batteries. The junk drawer is where you hold items that you can’t part with (for some reason), but yet you can’t invest more energy than just saving for a future date. I imagine you have work that falls into that category as well: the tasks that don’t have a priority or due date; the best intention projects or nice to haves that just never rise to the level of needing their own time on your schedule. The junk drawer of work to be done may be the personal stuff: the appointments you meant to schedule or the subscription you’ve been meaning to cancel; maybe even cleaning out the junk drawer itself. The professional junk drawer may contain strategic thinking or planning that isn’t as timely or the side project that isn’t as urgent or pressing. We go so heads down on work with deadlines, the fires that sprout up each day, that the list of junk drawer items gets longer and longer without a plan to attack. Let me offer some suggestions. First, if you are in a position to assign work and you think ‘get it to me when you can’ is an effective prioritization strategy – it’s not. When you don’t provide a deadline or a window of expected completion, the task goes to the bottom of the list. Into the junk drawer. Most people put tasks without a deadline behind everything that has a due date. So, provide a timeline. You can say there is no urgency, but you’d like it back a week from Thursday or before another project is started. It can be open-ended to some degree, but your expectations allow others to plan accordingly and keep the deliverable in the queue If you are assigned a task with no deadline or so open-ended that you put it in the junk drawer, ask. Is the expectation a week or a month from now, and push to align on expectations. A manager may give no deadline but still think you will complete the task by end of week and without knowing that, you may push the deliverable farther down the road and trust may be broken. So, what is the best way to clean out your junk drawer?

  • Set a standing appointment with yourself to address the list.

  • Put aside 30 minutes to one hour each week to tackle the small tasks that seem to carry forward and never rise to priority, the stack of not urgent, but timely action items.

  • You may not get through it all, but the discipline will allow you to cut the list down before other items get added.

  • Clean out the drawer on a regular basis so it doesn’t become overstuffed and unwieldy.

  • There is a burden to carrying forward a list of nice-to-haves, it requires mindshare and may distract you from other priorities.

  • You go forward better equipped for priorities and ‘when you can get to this’ assignments.

Gotta go…I have a few junk drawers to clean out.

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