Are you overwhelmed by the paper piles in your life? I know for sure that we are still far from being a paperless society since paper is the number one issue that I help clients with. I find that it stacks up on desks, counters, tables, kitchen islands and then gets swept into boxes or paper bags to deal with “someday.” Getting your paperwork organized is well worth your time and energy and sometimes it even includes the bonus of finding lost checks, cash and gift cards. I have had clients find thousands of dollars!
Follow these seven strategies to get organized and prevent paper pile-ups in your own home or office.
Start with the recent stuff
If you do have boxes or bags full of old paper, don’t start there. Tackle the paper that is current so bills, events and appointments don’t slip through the cracks. Purge paper that you don’t need and set up systems that will allow you to get your hands on important papers quickly. When you are on top of your current paperwork, then dig into the boxes and bags.
Place it where you pile it
If you have an area that you are naturally placing incoming paper and it’s turning into piles, purchase a basket or tray and place it there. Don’t force yourself to work too hard at creating new habits, just “place it where you pile it.” Use an attractive basket or tray so your eye focuses on the basket and not on a pile when you enter the room.
The two benefits of using a basket or tray are that you can move a basket quickly if company is coming over and it gives you a visual reminder that it’s time to process paper if the basket is full.
Process paper daily
Ideally, you will go through your incoming mail and paper daily. I have timed myself and it takes less than two minutes if you open your mail daily. If you go a few days, it adds up quickly and becomes an overwhelming task.
Keep your paper flowing by knowing where it’s going. The first stop for your paper is the incoming mail basket or tray. As you process your paper from your basket, look at each item with A.R.T. in mind.
A is for action. Ask yourself if this paper requires action such as paying a bill. If it does, create a clearly labeled action system to store paper until you have time to take action on it.
R is for retain. Ask yourself if you need this paper for future reference. If you do, then create a clearly labeled reference system. This is usually in a file cabinet.
T is for toss - my favorite! Quickly make decisions about what you do and do not need. If you don’t need it then pass it on, recycle or shred it.
Label the way you think
Make sure you can find your files again. If you are filing auto records, consider how you will recall the file. Should you label it “Auto, “ “Auto Records, “ “Vehicles?”
Reduce incoming paper
Look for ways to get less. If you don’t have time to read your magazines, cancel your subscriptions. If you can order items online, remove yourself from catalog mailing lists. Consider paying your bills online as well. There are two free resources available to help you reduce junk mail: DMAchoice.org and Catalogchoice.org.
If you are considering scanning your paperwork, be sure to get your paper piles under control first so you don’t waste time scanning paper that you don’t need. Make sure you invest in a good, flat bed scanner instead of scanning from your printer. Don’t forget to install a dependable back-up system, such as Carbonite, so you don’t lose your files.
Get your paper piles under control and get systems in place to save time and energy and reduce stress. Getting organized may even make you a little richer!