What comes almost every day – without fail? Mail! Paper management is an issue in almost everyone’s home these days. In spite of the increase in electronic communication, the amount of “snail mail” that comes into our homes has escalated tremendously in the past ten years. In the office, it’s even worse, since paper comes from both outside and internally. And, it comes six days a week, without fail!
Having a system in place to deal with all of the paper when it comes into your home or office is the key to avoiding all of those paper piles that tend to obscure our desktops, kitchen countertops and dining room tables. Setting up a mail sorting station is an important component to managing incoming paper.
Your mail sorting station should be situated as closely as possible to the door in which you enter your home each night. Most offices already have what you will need in place, but it’s a matter of using it on a regular basis. If you have to make a major effort to get to your station – if it’s in a remote, inaccessible space, it won’t be used and will defeat the purpose of having one. In your sorting station, you will need a trash bin/recycling bin, a good, sturdy shredder (get one that will shred at least 12 – 15 sheets at once), and at least two baskets or paper trays – one marked “action”, the other marked “file”. If you keep a large amount of articles or brochures to read, have a tray marked “read” as well. If you are setting up a system at home, you will also need a basket, tray or wall pocket for each member of your household who receives mail (probably not your toddler. Yet.)
When you enter your home each evening, mail in hand, or when the mail gets delivered to your office, take a few minutes to do a quick sort. You should immediately shred anything with financial or personal information (those credit card offers will have at least 3 – 4 sheets of paper folded over twice – hence the need for a sturdy shredder! It will save you time and effort if you don’t have to open any junk mail before shredding it.) Toss anything else in the trash or recycling bin. If you are a catalog or magazine lover, have a basket into which those catalogs and magazines will immediately go, and limit the number you save to however many will fit into that basket. When the basket is full, it’s time to either recycle the pile, or to stop saving them until you’ve read what you have! If you have accumulated more than three issues of a magazine without having had time to read them, then you need to consider canceling your subscription. You will save both time and money if you buy an occasional single issue when you do have time to read it, rather than having unread issues pile up, taking up space and wasting money (and causing you guilt in the process!)
After you’ve discarded the junk, sort what’s left (only the important stuff!), into the following categories:
- ACTION: anything on which you need to take an action that will take more than five minutes.
- FILE: anything you need to keep indefinitely that doesn’t need an action.
- READ: all of those interesting articles that you can save for the doctor’s waiting room, your next plane trip, etc.
- DELEGATE: paper that needs to be addressed by another family member should be put into their designated basket/tray/wall pocket.
Anything that can be taken care of immediately in 5 minutes or less – like signing school permission slips or a letter from your assistant that needs a quick proof-read and signature – should be done right away.
Tackle the papers in your ACTION tray on a regular basis – at home ideally for a few minutes every day, but at a minimum every three or four days. At work, prioritize your tasks and tackle the hardest stuff first. Author Brian Tracy of Time Power calls this “eating the biggest, ugliest frog first!” As for the FILE pile, taking some time every week (usually only about 15 minutes) to get stuff filed is far less boring and painful than leaving a huge pile that requires an hour or more of filing time to do. And remember – statistics have shown that 80% of what we file never gets looked at again! Be ruthless in what you keep. If you know you can find it again in another format (like online), toss it!
Putting in just a few minutes every day for paper maintenance really helps you stay on top of things and helps to prevent things from building up to unmanageable, frustrating levels. Paper piles are just the result of multiple postponed decisions.
Make the decision to decide – every day!