It starts with a single piece of paper, but before you know it, your desk and counters have been overcome by the paper monster! The paper monster can be scary to face, but with a few tips, you’ll be able to confront and conquer your paper monster.
#1 Contain your monster: Take a laundry basket and go around your home collecting all your un-filed papers, coupons, junk mail, etc. By collecting all the paper you are containing your paper monster into one (or more) manageable baskets. Your paper monster is no longer attacking your entire home!
#2 Sort: You’re probably panicking that that you’ll never find that “important” piece of paper buried in your laundry basket. Quickly go through each item in your basket using a “one-touch” rule, picking up each piece of paper and putting it into one of the following categories. (If you work from home, you may want to have 2 piles for each category, keeping your work and household papers separate.)
“ACTIVE” (papers that you need to respond to, act on, etc)
“DISCUSS” (If your household consists of more than 1 decision maker, place items that need to be discussed here. For example, estimates for home improvement projects, RSVP cards for weddings, donation requests, etc)
“BILLS TO PAY”
“TO FILE” (Information that you need to keep for long-term reference and cannot access some place else).
(You may also want to create a separate pile for each member of your household or other appropriate categories.)
#3 Create “homes”: Get rid of your trash, shred your papers, and put those “TO FILE” papers aside. (We’ll be addressing those in Part 2). You should be left with 3 categories “ACTIVE”,”DISCUSS” (if applicable), and “BILLS TO PAY”. You may also have piles for each member of your family or other categories you would like to add.
Now it’s time to create a filing or piling system that works for you. If filing doesn’t scare you, (and it does for some), consider getting a small desktop filing bin to keep these frequently used files handy. You may need to create subcategories for your action tasks, using a category that suggests the next action it requires, such as “to call", "to email" "to read".
WARNING: Be careful! Do not create a system that is so complicated that you need to be compulsive in order to maintain it. Your goal should be to create a system that allows you to find what you need when you need it AND is easy to maintain.
Does filing scare you? Some people, (myself included), don’t do well with filing active files. Visual people need to see things in order to remember to do them–and it’s hard to see through a file folder! I have found that piling can be as organized as filing. Consider using clear desktop storage drawers. Use one drawer for your "active" papers, one for your "discuss" category and one for your "to file". Place your bills to pay on top of the bin. Everyday sort your mail into these categories. Schedule daily or weekly time to review each drawer. I love this system because it keeps “piles” organized, it’s portable (just grab the drawer you need) and it’s easy to maintain because it isn’t “over-organized”.
#4 Schedule time to use your new system: Now that you have homes for your files and piles, spend some time using the system. Complete your correspondence, pay your bills, and discuss necessary paperwork with your partner.
Stay tuned for my next post, "Conquering the Paper Monster Part 2", where you were learn what to do with you backlog of filing!