Managing the Paper Monster (without surrendering!)

From clients, at workshops and seminars, at networking and social events, I hear the same lament over and over again. “I can’t seem to stay on top of the paper in my home/office. It just piles up all over the place! What can I do?”

It seems like managing paper is an issue for almost everyone. It’s one of the reasons I decided to specialize in paper management for homes and offices (that, and I really enjoy it, believe it or not!) Did you know that these days, a person receives more mail in one year than someone fifty years ago received in their entire lifetime? Even though we claim to be a paperless, electronic society, we all deal with more paper than ever before. It’s no wonder we all struggle to stay on top of it! I’ve found the following methods for dealing with paper to be very helpful both for my clients and in my own living and working spaces:

  • Go Vertical
    You may be a person who needs visual reminders and who likes to keep all your papers in sight, thinking that you will be able to stay on top of things when you actually see what’s in front of you. However, what you’re really only seeing is what’s on top of the pile. The minute you place one paper on top of another, the bottom paper becomes out of sight, out of mind. If throwing a paper into a file drawer sends you into panic mode at the thought that you’ll never see it again, try going vertical. Use labeled wall pockets or vertical and stadium files to hold current, pending paperwork that requires action so that it’s still in front of your face, but not spread out in piles on your desk.
  • Use Your Calendar & To-Do List
    Instead of using the actual paper piles as a reminder of what needs to be done, make a note on your to-do list or mark your calendar with upcoming deadlines and tasks. Then pop that corresponding paperwork into a labeled folder, file or binder for safekeeping. The reminder on your list or your calendar will prompt you to get the task done on time, and the paperwork will be conveniently gathered in one place instead of scattered all over your desktop or countertop.
  • Have a System in Place
    When paper comes into your home or office, have a system in place to deal with it. (And no, throwing it on top of the piles that are already there is not a system!) Have at least 2 baskets or paper trays in a convenient, open spot. Label one “Action” – for any paper that needs to have an action taken on it, whether it’s a bill to be paid, a business card to be entered into your database, etc. Another basket should be labeled “File” – for paperwork that doesn’t need to have any action taken on it, but needs to be saved for future reference (such as tax forms, insurance policies, your kids’ medical forms.) This pile needs to be regularly filed into your filing cabinet.
    If you have other people in your household who receive mail or paperwork, each of them should also have a basket, tray or wall pocket marked with their name. Any paper that they need to deal with should go into their designated container (it’s called “delegating” – and yes, it feels good!)
  • Manage Mail Immediately
    Dealing with the incoming mail each day also helps to keep those paper piles from getting out of control. Make a habit of taking no more than 5 minutes to do a quick, general sort of the mail as soon as it comes into your home or office. Set up a mail sorting station with a trash can/recycling bin, shredder, and your “Action” and “File” baskets. As soon as you walk into your living or working space, mail in hand, get rid of the junk right away by shredding, trashing, or recycling it. What’s left either goes into “Action”, “File” or delegated (there’s that great word again) into someone else’s basket.
  • Keep It Out
    The best way to avoid building those paper piles is to keep as much of it out of your space as possible to begin with. Taking a few extra minutes now to get off mailing lists, leaving those extra flyers at the store, or canceling those newspaper and magazine subscriptions that pile up because you never have time to read them is a great start. If it never comes in, it won’t pile up!

Managing the paper monster is a challenge for all of us. If you’re looking for some in-depth help for conquering your paper piles and for learning how to set up systems that will keep it under control once and for all, contact us.

About Lisa Griffith - Professional business organizer and speaker - Griffith Productivity Solutions

About The Author

Lisa Griffith is a speaker and consultant who provides services, both on-site and virtually, to help busy professionals organize their offices, systems and calendars. In addition to business and home office organizing, productivity and time management coaching, she provides workshops & seminars for business and community groups.