Taming the Paper Menace

How to finally, and easily, get your paper clutter under control.

Posted by Steve Graham | May 05, 2011
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teaksato/stock.xchngGot paper clutter?  We're here to help! If you end up sorting through a deep piles of overdue bills, old news and other items, take a few minutes to classify each piece of paper coming across your desk or into your mailbox. It should fall into one of three categories: immediate actions, delayed actions, references and trash.

Immediate Actions: Take a step to deal with any paperwork that requires immediate attention. That doesn’t mean you always have to drop everything to pay a bill or schedule an appointment, but you should take one of four steps:

• If it takes less than two minutes, do it. You’ll spend more than two minutes on the project if you just leave it in the pile and keep glancing at it.

• If it takes more than two minutes, put it in a “next actions” folder, and review the next actions folder daily. This should also include specific, small steps in ongoing projects. For example, “do taxes” is not a next action, but “contact bank for 1099 interest documents” might be a next action.

• Schedule it for action on a specific date, and put it in a dedicated folder for that date (“Leave the Office Earlier” offers a good system for 43 dated “tickler” folders — one for each month of the year, and one for each of the next 30 days).  

Delayed actions: Other items may not require quick action, but aren’t worth throwing away. For example, as a freelance writer, I get plenty of press releases that aren’t going to immediately become part of an article, but provide interesting story ideas. These “someday” stories can go in a separate file.  DIY Resource: http://www.networx.com/article/taming-the-paper-menace

References: Another separate filing system should be dedicated to owners’ manuals, important investment documents or other items that you may need to use again, but do not require immediate or specific action.

Trash: If you immediately deal with paperwork, you may discover that Chase credit card bill is really a Chase credit card offer that can be recycled before it even lands on your desk. Likewise, dump the envelopes, flyers and CYA “privacy” statements that come with your bills and other important papers.

Toss anything that you know is readily available online. If your recycling company encloses a list of recyclable items with your bill, see if it also notes whether the information is on the company Web site. The policies will change over time, and on the rare occasion you are trying to figure out if that party deli tray can go out with the egg cartons and newspapers (it probably can’t), you’re better off looking online than trying to search through files for the list.  DIY Resource: http://www.hometalk.com

How to make organization fun

This all probably sounds like a lot of work, but you can make organizing fun.

If you are a gadget geek, get a label maker. It will make filing a lot more fun, and you’ll find a thousand other great uses — labeling leftovers, seedling pots, hardware drawers and more. Also, if your handwriting is hard to read, printed labels make your files easier to find.

If you are an irrepressible crafter, you can build a drawer or filing system for all those tickler folders.

A little upfront work building and managing your new paperwork organization system can save plenty more time in the long run.  If you really want to get serious about organizing your life, I recommend reading and living by “Getting Things Done” and “Leave the Office Earlier.”

Steve Graham is a Networx/Hometalk writer.  Read more articles like this one, or get help with your home project on Hometalk.com.

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