Have you experienced the paper management challenge — the showdown when you attempt to stare down a desk or tabletop covered in paper, hoping it will organize itself? Or better yet, disappear? Notes, bills, unopened mail, kids school papers, assignments, contracts and home office documents all piled high or strewn around and covering your work surfaces?
I have, as a professional organizer, a very organized home, yet the paper that comes in, both personal and professional, never ends. And I absolutely hate looking at messy piles of paper in my home office and my home. It makes me feel stress, and it looks disorderly. Now I've become a paper management champion.
Attacking the piles with a paper management system may seem like it will take even more time than it’s worth (or than you’re able or willing to give). Even with the stress you feel every time you look at those paper piles, you know deep inside you aren't going to win the showdown unless you make the first move.
Most of you (me, too!) hold onto paper because you’re worried you’ll forget what’s on it or it requires action you can't do just this minute, or you need to file it. So you leave it out as a reminder, to handle later, or refer to if you need it or maybe because you just don't know what to do with it.
You may even have your papers organized in piles on your dining room table, kitchen counter or home office desk. But paper management is more than organization, it's about getting rid of the paper piles so you can reclaim your space.
How to do paper management with LESS paper
- Go paper-less (bills, newsletters, etc.) if given the option by your provider – so you have less paper mail coming in
- Eliminate junk mail by using an online services like Mail Preference Service to help you opt off of junk mail lists.
- Use technology. Mini-scanners combine a copy machine and a magic wand. There are many types so check reviews at pcmag.com and voila, start saving virtually and tossing!
- Consider software. It can help you stay organized and develop effective paper management. When I searched for paper management software on google, a ton of excellent resources appeared. There are two lists that have just about everything you can think of, one from dailytekk.com and another from Top Ten Reviews.
Paper management When You Want to Keep the Paper
Think of paper management in terms of these 4 categories when you attack your wild paper pile or daily incoming paper and triage as follows:
The Never File — Something you won't need ever or maybe once in the next five years, and you can look it up online. That includes empty envelopes, advertisements, promotions, flyers. You know where this goes — the paper management circular file.
The Always File – 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. These will go in your paper management file cabinet.
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. These go in a folder labeled Later or This Week.
The NOW File – Today’s To-Do List. Actions that need to be addressed in the next day or so. Put these in your paper management folder labeled Now or Today.
If you attack your paper management challenge with these categories, you'll end up with only the Later and Now folders, which you can keep neatly in your home office or a corner of your kitchen. Don't forget to check those paper management folders every day or every other day as some of your Now and Laters will either need attention, get tossed or filed.
After you do the initial triage, you can keep your paper management system up to date by separating every piece of paper that comes through your door (or out of your printer) in this way AS YOU HANDLE THEM. This organization rule espoused by professional organizers and time management folks is critical. Don't look at the paper and set it down somewhere. Look at it and triage it immediately.
You can attack the paper tiger with the right tools and systems for paper management, so your desk, kitchen counter or dining room table get to do their real jobs and your home looks and feels organized! For more paper management tips, read about home command centers.