Creating a simple paperwork system

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ca. 2003 --- Businessman Carrying Pile of Files --- Image by ©  Darama/CORBIS

It can be so overwhelming when we let our paperwork get out of control.

Sara Hall recently recorded an article for Puggle FM on how to create a simple system for your incoming paperwork, here are Sara’s tips:

1. Create a system for new paperwork first

It’s important to create a system for any new paperwork coming in and then work back through any piles, boxes or areas you have of unorganised paperwork. This way, you stop the problem from getting any worse, are able to deal with new items straight away and will start to see a result.

Make sure nothing new is added to the piles but rather to the new system. If you find yourself wanting to add something to a pile instead of the new paperwork system, what is missing in your new system that this is happening?

2. Create paperwork centre

First decide on where you will action your paperwork, this could be in a study or you might need to think outside the square on what area would be best suited.  Think about where your paperwork accumulates and where would be the best place to sit down to deal with your papers.  You may need a quiet area or it might be an area that has a dual purpose and the items listed below are stored in a cupboard.

Make sure the area has all the items you will need to easily action the paperwork, like:

  • your diary – whether this is your phone, tablet, a physical diary or your computer, make sure you have easy access and that you aren’t using different systems that aren’t synced.
  • An in-tray, Sara recommends using a vertical in-tray like the one pictured to the right with actionable folders.
  • Often used stationery – a note pad, pen, stapler (make it a habit to always staple paperwork that belong together straight away), hole punch, highlighter (think about highlighting important information as you read it so that you are not wasting time later trying to find relevant information again) and stamps, envelopes if you often post items. Make it easy to access these items by having a container with compartments to house them in.
  • Have a waste paper bin close to hand and shredder (if you have one, if you don’t please make sure you destroy any personal information carefully).
  • Your filing system – this needs to be close at hand and can be a filing cabinet, folders on a shelf or a box folder. Please make sure everything is well labelled and not overflowing with ‘just in case’ paperwork. Ask yourself why do I need this? What am I keeping it for – do I really need it?

Use your intray for incoming paperwork that needs actioning only.

3. Create actionable folders

Create folders related to the type of paperwork you have coming in (eg bills to pay, errands, RSVP, awaiting reply ,forms to fill out, projects like renovation or events etc).

Come up with actionable categories that make sense to you and your situation. Monitor them and make sure these folders are working, and if they are not, think about how you could rename them to work more effectively rather than slipping back into old habits.

If you are a visual person think about introducing colour to differentiate the categories, so you would have the same colour for your filing folder as you would your actionable item ie green for anything finance so this could be banking in your filing and bills to be paid in your in-tray.

 

4. Create a routine around your new system

Dedicate a time to open your mail, and allocate days and times that you will action each folder in your in-tray. Ie  Monday 5pm – follow up on information you are waiting for. Tuesdays 8pm – pay bills, Wednesday 1pm– run errands , Thursday 9am – RSVP to invitations.  Put these tasks in your calendar.

Sara does not recommend you create a filing tray or folder for filing. as this has the risk of getting out of control. Instead build filing into your routine ensuring you leave enough time to file as you go.

Great habit to have – each day before you walk into your home or office, make a detour to your recycling bin and throw out any mail or paperwork you have collected during the day that you know you don’t need or will not look at.

Create the habit to take one small action with any paperwork you bring into your home or office. First decision – throw, file or action?  Take that first step of throwing in the bin or shredding, filing it in your filing system or placing it into an actionable folder in your in-tray instead of starting a new pile. This will help stop paperpiles from forming again.

If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork you have, we can help. Simply contact Finer Details for friendly professional help decluttering/organising your home or office.

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