Don’t Get Lost Down the Paper Trail…

PaperPileScrambling to sort through receipts & forms so you can file those taxes in time? Or have you been there, done that … promising that next year will be different? Then you’ll enjoy today’s post from productivity & organizing expert Paris Love. ~KG

~ By Paris Love

We’ve all had that moment… much like the Wild West showdown when we attempt to stare down a desk or tabletop covered in paper.  Notes, bills, unopened mail, kids school papers, assignments, contracts.  It’s the good, bad and the ugly — without the good.

Attacking such a monstrosity may seem like it will take even more time than it’s worth (or than we’re willing to give).  But when we think of the swirling stress and the time wasted, we know deep down inside that we aren’t going to win the showdown unless we make the first move.  Because this isn’t going to end in a draw and there’s only going to be one winner.

Most of us hold onto paper because we’re worried we’ll forget what’s on it, so we leave it out as a reminder or to file later, or refer to if we need it or maybe because we just don’t know what else to do with it.

That’s where I come in, the organization and productivity sheriff¸ here to help you start a system and stick to it, then watch the paper vanish, as you feel a sense of empowerment rising up from within.

How to shoot down the paper 

  • Try to go paper-less (bills, newsletters, etc.) if given the option online by your provider.
  • Eliminate junk mail You can write to the following address (ask them to take you off their “direct mailing” list): Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
  • Use technology.  Mini-scanners are a combination of a copy machine and a magic wand.  Hand-held and barely longer than a ruler, you run one over a page or image to record it digitally, then save it to your appropriate computer file. Paper disappears!
  • Try software like Highrise, a subscription service that can help you stay organized.  Think of it as a personal, electronic secretary.  It has an abundance of features such as keeping meeting notes, documents and contracts, tracking proposals and deals, setting reminders and keeping track of conversations and dates. You can use Highrise to share just about anything with selected co-workers. Highrise will even connect with email and the internet, and has apps for Android or iPhones.
  • Evernote is a free program designed to help you eliminate paper.  You can use it to save or share snippets from documents, web pages, articles, photos—even audio files.

 

If you must keep the paper…

You can think of organizing paper in terms of 4 categories:  Now, Later and Always and Never.

There are a few supplies you should have handy (usually you have these things but haven’t been using them to their best potential…..

  • Small filing cabinet
  • Accordion file (or multiples, for different purposes)
  • 3 Ring Binder (s) – and plastic sheets, dividers (just like in school)

Now, quickly triage your paper pile using these 4 Categories:

The Never File — something you just aren’t going to need ever or if on the 1% chance you might use it in the next five years, you could look it up online.  So stuff like empty envelopes, advertisements, promotions, flyers.  You know where this file goes:  the circular file.

The Always File – something that will always be with you.  Very important, long-term-use documents (passports, medical records, policies, contracts, tax information etc…) that do not require immediate action and are not part of a To-Do list.

The Later File – things you don’t want to forget about, that you’d ideally like to tackle in the near future (like, this week) but not necessarily today.

The NOW File – Today’s To-Do List.  Actions that need to be addressed in the next day or so. Action Tip: Get a desk folder-holder and use simple manila folders for the NOW File and the Later File—that way they’re out and accessible, but not an eyesore.

 

Use a Kill Plan to keep Short Term files from becoming a Long Term files (a.k.a. “pile-up”).

The KEY to having a successful Kill Plan is to design a set of rules that you ruthlessly follow in order to make yourself throw things out.  Everyone’s will look different, but try using these methods of execution once you have one.

  • Start at the back (the older stuff) and work forward.  It is easier to make decisions this way.  This also builds confidence and momentum.
  • Set a timer for 30-60 seconds. You can do almost anything for a minute!  Ruthlessly eliminate as much as possible during the set time.  Doing this a few times will thin the herd by half, faster than you think.
  • Eliminate 1 item a month/week/dayor 1 item every time you dip into that file,  or… 1 item every time you add a new file/item.  Again, delete from the back (oldest) as you add to the front.

 

Eliminate some of your paper load before…

… it ever gets to your table/desk.  Try these new habits/behaviors:

  • Throw away non-essentials  – Do your sorting, sifting and mail-opening by the trash. Get rid of return envelopes, advertisements, etc.
  • Do it or file it right away whenever possible  – respond to invitations, tack dates to the fridge or mark something on a calendar immediately if it’s notice, announcement or something that doesn’t require any thought or complex action.
  • Eliminate whole pieces of paper  – Pair-down or clip important parts of things.  Then put your clippings in an envelope or folder (to be filed IMMEDIATLEY!).  Get rid of the rest.
  • Replace large papers or piles with Post-It notes – write tasks as a Catch Phrase on a small note. Stick these to a regular piece of paper. File or stow the original documents or stacks so they’re out of your space. This new To-Do sheet will keep you from forgetting. The entire mass can usually be reduced to one, 8” x 11” piece of paper.

 

Whether you are a paper hoarder, a paper thrower, a paper piler, or a paper delayer, you can use these tips above so you don’t have to deal with a show down ever again.

 

Paris LoveParis Love is a Productivity and Organizational Consultant specializing in helping overextended professionals strive for a better quality of life infused with meaningful work, wealth, good health and well being. Paris has written articles for NAPO News, Star Lee Magazine, Baldwin Parent, San Diego NAPO News, Organizing A to Z, BrownSkin Magazine, Online Organizing and Home Base Quarterly. You can catch Paris on A & E “Hoarders” where she helps a family in crisis. Her most recent book, Fifty Tips to Get You Organized in Ten Minutes or Less and Growing Pains, along with more information on her life’s work and business can be found at www.ParisLoveInstitute.com  or by calling 770-722-2748.

About the author, Kelly

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