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Organizing Tip :: A Step by Step Guide to Paper Management

If you feel like papers are taking over your home or office, this guide is for you.

Paper management takes two things to be successful.

1. A filing system that works for you. (works for you is the important part)

2. Some small measure of discipline to stay on top of your papers

I read a quote once that really resonated with me. The quote said that “Perfectionism leads to Procrastination.” This is especially true when it comes to paper management. There is no perfect filing system, perfect folder or perfect circumstance that one has to achieve to manage their papers. Just roll up your sleeves and dig in.

Here’s how to get started:

Every home or office needs to have an adequate file cabinet to store papers in. The size of the cabinet depends on the amount of papers you or your family acquires. You may want to spend some time thinking about what you really need to keep before you go out and buy a file cabinet. Consult with your accountant if you need some guidance about what is really important to keep and for how long.

Next, gather your supplies to make the process move more quickly. Make sure you have manila folders, hanging folders, bags for paper recycling and bags for shredding. File labels for the folders should always be done with consistent marker color and letter size. Buy a label maker if you don’t have legible handwriting.

Now start sorting your papers. Take a stack of papers from your desk or counter and place them in a single pile in front of you. Start with whatever is on the top of the pile and make decisions. Decide what it is. Decide if you need to do something before it gets filed away. Whatever you do, do not “put it aside for later” or place it in a new pile.

If you find something that requires action, put it in a Requires Action or To Do area or folder. Some people are very visual so putting papers in a folder may not work. If that’s the case, put it in an upright holder on your desk where you will see it. Do the same for Bills to Pay.

Everything else that you decide to keep should be categorized into files that make sense to you. Try not to make files for every piece of paper you come across. Unless there is a real reason to do so, make one file called Medical Bills instead of separate files for every doctor you visit.

Keeping making 1 hour appointments with yourself to continue the process until all of the backed up papers have been dealt with. Remember we only go back to look at 20% of papers we file. Toss out or shred what you don’t need!

Now comes the discipline part of the process. Make time to manage your papers on a daily basis. Sort your mail every time you bring it in. Keep a recycle bin near the place you tend to drop the mail so recycling can happen right away.

Put papers to be filed in a shallow box on top of the filing cabinet. Keep it shallow so things don’t pile up. Make a weekly appointment with yourself to take care of the filing!

So there you are, a simple way to get control of your papers. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to get done.


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