I kept trying to give it away. For the last couple months the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, had been going from the house to the donation bag I keep in the garage. Something kept telling me I needed to revisit what author Greg McKeon had to say.

The gist of the book is that identifying what is essential is the key to productivity, stress-reduction and our ability to contribute to the world. I think the reason I almost parted with the book was that the subject seemed too obvious. But as I encounter clients on a regular basis who can’t seem to see “the forest (the essential) for the trees”, I’m thinking that maybe the obvious needs a bit more unpacking.

A very common thread between most of my clients when I first meet them is an office desk covered with small pieces of scrap paper, Post-Its and tablets, all with notes and phone numbers jotted on them. None of them are dated or give much information as to what the phone number or note relates to.

Dealing with all these little pieces of paper is the last thing clients usually want to do. They think it is an easy task, a waste of our time together, etc. But all of these tiny open loops are the crazy-makers that, when confronted, will make a big difference in their productivity and reduce their stress. In other words, it is essential to get the desk cleared and track these little items more efficiently so that they don’t require more than their fair share of brain power.

First, about half of these little pieces of paper, once we look at them, can be thrown away. The essential organizing tip here is that when you are done with a note or phone number, take a moment to decide whether you need to do something with it (record it in your contacts list, file it, make a quick call, etc.) and if not, toss it immediately. Unneeded papers—aka trash—mixed with important papers on the prime real estate of your desk makes your brain work overtime.

Next, date everything! The date of a document is essential, even on the tiniest note. It is the key piece of information needed to let you know how relevant something is to your current activity. And include the year. Time passes swiftly. If you label something “2/1” rather than “2/1/17”, in three years you won’t have a clue as to when the note was taken.

The book, Essentialism, covers much more big picture items and big concepts, like the importance of getting enough sleep, the importance of taking time to think and not just react to every interruption or phone call, and the importance of saying no to activities that don’t warrant a “hell yeah I’d love to do it!” But sometimes it’s the little things that are essential to get your organization to the next level so that you have the space and peace of mind to think about the big stuff.