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Manage That Paper Clutter

Investing some time in your filing system is not only good for your business, but for your family -- who gets to see more of you when you get that office clutter under control!

©1999, by Debbie Williams

Did you know that the average executive wastes 150 hours per year looking for documents? One in 20 documents is lost and never recovered. As an organizational consultant, the most common question I hear from clients is: How Do I Get My Papers Organized? I'd like to help you create a working system for your home or office.

A basic filing method can be set up with three easy steps:

1. Sort it
2. File it
3. Follow up on it

Sort It. Before you can file a single piece of paper, you need to sort through the stacks. Get rid of anything that you haven't used for the past year, except tax and business documents. This applies to business and personal papers, magazines, newsletters, business cards, and your Rolodex.

File It. 80% of what you file is never looked at again! This puts things into perspective, doesn't it? There are two basic file types: archives and current. Archive files contain legal and tax papers, while current files include receipts, warranties, instruction manuals, reference material, client information, etc.

Follow Up On It. There are several ways to keep track of projects you need to complete, or clients you need to contact at a later date.

  • File Box. Purchase index cards with labeled dividers. You can use an alphabetical system, or write your own category name on the tab. Note important dates and projects on each card, then file.
  • Accordion File Folder. Buy a 3-sided folder labeled A-Z or 1-30 for your desktop or cabinet. Place each document to be processed at a later date behind the corresponding numbered or lettered divider. Keep only the current month in the dividers, placing the distant dates in the back of the folder. At the beginning of each month, pull the papers for the current month's attention to be filed. Repeat as necessary each month.
  • Computerized Planner. The software is designed for use alone or with a companion notebook organizer. Some have an alarm or flagging feature, which automatically notifies you of upcoming projects and their due dates.

Now that you've established your paper management system, let's think about maintaining it!

To maintain your filing system, just remember three easy rules:

1. Keep everything in its place
2. File as you go
3. Be consistent

Keep Everything In Its Place. Mail order catalogs contain wonderful organizing products - such as bill paying notebooks, greeting card files, budget managers and planning calendars - to help categorize your information. In addition, discount stores or office supply stores offer magazine holders, hanging folder holders, milk crates, vertical file holders, wicker baskets, and stacking trays that will help put your documents in order.

File As You Go. Here's a few tips:

  • Use a tray or a folder to collect mail and process daily.
  • File business cards or update your database on a daily basis.
  • Post upcoming business and personal transactions in your planner or follow-up file, then file the documentation.
  • Keep receipts in a folder or envelope, then cross-reference with your itemized bills.
  • Purge files at least once a year.
  • Designate a time and place to process mail and record incoming bills.
Be Consistent.
  • Remember to only be as organized as you need to be. Tackle those stacks of paper ten or fifteen minutes at a time each day until you can finally see your desktop. I think you'll be surprised at how much you get done in a short time.
  • Set up your files where they will actually be used, not where you think they belong. For instance, if you like to read the mail at the kitchen table while drinking a cup of coffee, then sort and file papers in the kitchen, rather than the office.

Once you've set up your working system, commit to maintaining it. You can do it. And you'll find more time to spend on the things that are really important to you -- like your family!

Debbie Williams is an independent writer and owner of Let's Get It Together, a home and office organizing and time management service for busy parents. She stays in touch with her clients via e-mail (), her web site, and her address, P.O. Box 590860, Houston, TX 77259.

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