I had one client tell me his office was one big inbox with no outbox in sight. What can we do to keep that paper moving right along off our desk and out of our office?
- Immediately trash/recycle/put in the shred box what you don't need. Be ruthless here. If you don't need more clothes why keep the clothes catalogue at all? If a fancy vacation is not possible now, let the travel ads go. More will come later.
- Put all magazines and catalogues you are keeping in a basket near where you read. Each month clear out the old editions.
- All papers you are now keeping need an action. Look at the papers (and yes, that does mean opening the mail) and decide what the first action you must take with this paper. Paper piles build up because you defer making those decisions on the spot.
- Have action or desktop files ready. This is where those papers will go. You might label your files "read", "pay", "file", "pending", or "contact". What labels you use will depend on what actions are needed for your kept paper.
- Know that the action referred to in "action files" is not the action of putting the paper into the files. You must schedule a time to pay bills, make contacts, and follow up on pending items. Schedule times on your calendar to do the actions that the folders demand. Don't let papers live there forever.
- Set up idea folders for those papers you keep that are not immediate actions. These folders might include vacation ideas, landscaping ideas, party or home decorating ideas. At least yearly, clear out what no longer interests you. These folders can live in a file drawer or in a bookcase.
- Use project bins. These bins are for ongoing projects. Designate a bin for each big project (daughter's wedding, book you're writing, etc.). Some smaller projects can go into folders within a bin. I use folders for business ideas or organizations I attend. With project bins, you pull out what you need to work on and as soon as you are finished or out of time, you sweep it all back into the bin.
- Keep regular files (insurance, car, medical) updated and cleared out.
Following these habits will help you maintain a clear desk, office, and a clearer mind. Getting rid of the piles of paper that scream "Look at me!" when you are working on something else keeps you from getting distracted.
Let's keep that paper movin' right along and to its final destination. No more paper pile ups!
Jonda S. Beattie