Saturday, September 19, 2015

A professional organizer's four step system to make a paper pile disappear

I don't love paperwork. Do you? 

Even though I used to be a professional organizer, I still feel overwhelmed by a pile of papers. So here is a little system I've developed to make processing papers as fast, pleasant, and painless as possible. 

Step one: Gather stuff. 

  • Gather all the lose papers into one pile or bin. To keep me from getting distracted, I actually like putting the paper pile right on my lap. 
  • Have your calendar and to-do list handy.
  • To make sorting as fast as possible, I suggest making a few little signs that you can use over and over. Below are the signs that work for me, which I made from 4x6" index cards cut in half. 
    • To file
    • Dad's nightstand 
    • Enter into planner
    • Projects to do soon
    • My nightstand
    • Bookcase 
    • Other room

Because my desk is in my bedroom, the foot of my bed is a convenient place to sort papers.

Step two: Sort your papers into piles using your handy dandy signs.  
  • I suggest some upbeat music for this process, like Alex Boye or something else uplifting and fun. 
  • If a task can be done in just a minute or two on the spot, like sending a quick email or paying a quick bill, you may choose to go ahead and do it now rather than adding it to a pile.

Step three: Take each pile and put it away quickly. 

What you DON'T want is for those piles to stick around and clutter up your space again. 

If you have a bunch of papers to file, rather than wasting time opening and closing file drawers over and over, you can take a little time to sort those into drawers first, which makes filing go much more quickly.  In fact, next time I may use these signs as I sort the whole paper pile. 

Step four: Add any items onto your calendar or to-do list. 

Here is what my paper planner looks like inside, both my monthly calendar and my current task list. I created these charts to fit my life. I also use blank pages to write a to-do list for the week or day, but with my current life full of seminary teaching, homeschooling, and blogging, I don't write those that often. Sometimes I use a hole punch to insert a paper right into my planner. 

If you need to store papers that go with a task or project on your list, you can store them in a manila current project folders. I have manila folders for each of my current projects using the paper trays on my desk, as seen in the picture below, with these labels:  
  • In. This top tray is where I gather papers until time to process them. 
  • Seminary teaching stuff. My manual, class roster, and so on. 
  • Education. A folder for the various school programs my children participate in.
  • Other projects. A manila folder for each of the current projects I'm working on: food storage inventory, food storage meal plan, stuff to mail my missionary son, handouts to give to the sisters I visit teach. The manila folders in this tray change over time as projects in my life change. You might want a folder or tray for financial papers like bills, coupons, ads, and your budget. Or one for a church calling or community leadership position. Or one for a vacation you're planning. This little system is really handy because you know where to find and put away your most important papers. 

Now, take a step back, look at your clean desk and SMILE.

My dream is to be so on top of things that I daily process papers that come in, and never let them pile up again. But for now, my four step system works great. 

One more tip is to prevent papers from coming into your home in the first place. 

  • Sort the mail and other papers by a trash can and/or recycler. Then what you place in your in-tray will be less and more manageable. 
  • See how many bills you can switch to auto-pay. 
  • Prevent bills and statements from coming in the mail by switching to paperless email statements. Then create a folder to file those away within your email system. 
  • Unsubscribe from as many email or mailing lists as you can. If you have certain email lists you want to see sometimes but not all the time, create an automatic filter to hold onto those emails in a certain folder. Gmail makes this easy. 

Feel free to leave a comment below about your favorite tricks for taming paperwork. 

1 comment:

seesuerun said...

Thank you! Is there anything you can't do? :)