By now you have hopefully gotten rid of all the paper you no longer need (shred it! recycle it!) and filed every stray scrap of paper in your office.
If you haven’t, go for a refresher on managing paper, and finish the task.
Why am I being so strict? Because paper comes in every day and the larger your piles grow, the harder they are to manage (and deal with). You need to start with a clean slate if you’re going to start taming the paper trail as it winds through your office.
The truth is, paper, like laundry, never goes away. Despite e-mail, e-bills, and the ability to look up just about anything on the Internet and then copy it to your computer (look Ma! no paper!), paper still seems to accumulate. Everywhere.
Now there are dozens of paper-management systems out there. Some of them are very elaborate. Some of them are very simple. I confess I tend to gravitate toward the simpler routines, as the idea of mastering and practicing something complicated just sounds like too much, given how much else I have going on in my life.
Or perhaps I just have a simple mind.
So here’s five tips that I’ve found to be really, really helpful:
1) Take care of all the floating scraps of paper every day. You may choose to do it first thing in the morning. You may choose to do it as a break around mid-day. Or you may choose to do it before you close up shop in the evening. But make sure that once a day all accumulated paper has been re-homed in its special spot.
(I like to file first thing in the morning as a kind of warm-up exercise to work. Plus it gives me a clean desk top, which is very satisfying!)
2) Have just one spot where the paper is allowed to loiter until you file it away. This makes it easier for you to take care of when you’re ready to focus on it and also keeps other areas in your working environment clear.
3) Make sure you truly do have spots to put all the types of paper you have. E.g., I have one basket where I keep my receipts until I enter them in my book-keeping program; a special accordian file where I store child-oriented memorabalia (cute notes, birthday cards, artwork, etc); a “to read” basket where I put articles that I have torn from magazines and newspapers; and one entire filing drawer for “Current Projects,” so that I can quickly find my notes on a particular task when I need it.
4) Designate one day for getting rid of newspapers that you haven’t read yet. My day is Saturday, so I have a full week to get through the Sunday New York Times.
(This task is very hard for me, by the way. I love newspapers. I know that we may not have newspapers for much longer. It’s very hard for me to toss them when I haven’t yet read them. But when the newspapers begin to spill out of the newspaper basket I worry about becoming a newspaper hoarder.)
5) Make sure your filing cabinet is ready to receive all your precious paper.
Next up: Organizing your filing cabinet.