“I hate being a grown-up. Having to learn things
I didn’t want to know really pisses me off.”
- Overheard by Barbara Scher,
Managing paper is a challenge for many people. A lot of people resist managing their paper and creating filing systems because it seems too boring, too stuffy, too reminiscent of being bureaucratic, or just too grown up! But getting a grip on the paper in your life is a necessity if you want to become truly successful. If you are drowning in paper, and can’t find important papers when you need them, it’s hard to feel the confidence you need to go after what you want in life. So taking charge of your paper at work and at home is a great way to build your confidence and prepare to succeed.
Here are some tips to get started.
If you have papers scattered all over your desk and office, take a few minutes to pick them all up and put them in one basket or pile.
Sort your piles one at a time. As you hold each paper, ask yourself, “What is my next action with this?” Make a note of it on the paper or on a post-it note you attach to the paper. If an action is time driven, make a note in your calendar or follow-up system including where to find the paper you need. If not time driven, put the action on a to-do list.
Categorize as you sort. You can sort actionable paper into categories such as Pay, Call, Email, Enter in Computer, Shred, Errands, Decide, Buy, Look up on Web, File, Get My Money Back, etc. Whatever makes sense to you. Just don’t get too granular – you don’t want a separate file for every piece of paper. If you get stuck on categories, start with just a few categories like:
o Act / Follow-Up (Personal & work can be split up)
Every paper you have will fit into one of these categories. Later, if you find you have a bunch of papers that say "Call" on them – split them out into their own pile.
Create a vertical hanging filing system to get paper you don’t use frequently off your desk. It doesn’t have to be fancy. If you don’t want to take the time to use little plastic tabs to label your files, you can use super sticky post-it notes instead!
TIP: When you get an extra supply of file folders, don’t store them on a shelf or in a closet. Dump the packaging and store the files in a file drawer so they are ready to use when you need them!
Alternatives to Filing. Be Creative! If you love your piles, or just can’t stand to have files in drawers, or if you hate the very sight of a file folder, you can still be organized! Alternatives to files in drawers include:
BINDERS- If you really hate filing, try using binders with tabbed pockets to organize projects. Be sure to label your binders.
THE STEP FILE – Get a large sturdy step file sorter with 8 sections. Use file folders in a favorite color. Keep them all the same color for a neater look. Make sure you can write directly on the tab with a Sharpie and still read it. Yellow folders are great for this.
I recommend getting a very tall and sturdy step sorter like the one in the picture that supports your files well. This will make it much easier to take your files in and out easily. You won't use it if your files flop over!
GIVE PILES A HOME - One client I worked with needed things to be out and visual and hated file folders. But her boss HATED messy offices. So we created a system she had several 3 tier shelves on her wall and could create labeled piles!
For another client, we created an area where she could keep her 4 - 5 piles for active projects on her credenza. We used portfolios (all the same color) to lay on top of the pile and make it look neat. We also neatly labeled the spot on the credenza top for each pile with a post-it. So each pile had a home. We also labeled the folder with a post-it. She had all the same piles, but everyone commented on how neat and organized her office looked, and she still got to have her piles the way she liked them!
Purge your project piles and files regularly! Once a project is over, recycle or shred the paper you no longer need. Create what I call a project closedown file or binder and keep only the most important papers such as the project plan, design, and deliverables. Filed inactive project paper in an archive – out of your way. Even better, recycle the paper and create a project closedown CD for your project files to put in the folder. Clean the files off your computer if space on your hard drive is an issue.
Archival Files. Everyone needs a system to get paper that don't need to use, but must keep, out of their way. I call this the archiving system. It should be stored somewhere not in your immediate office (or at home not in your living space.) If you use a file archive box at work, label it neatly and find an appropriate storage place for it in your company. Don’t leave file boxes hanging around your office for weeks and months. It looks like you don’t care about finishing up the details or following up.
If you aren’t sure what paper you must archive or how your company wants it stored/disposed of, ask an executive assistant, HR rep or Facilities Management Representative.