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You Are Here: Home - Newsletters - "Get Organized" - Article

     Managing Household Paper Flow

Disorganization costs everyone valuable time and money. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average individual wastes six weeks per year (or one hour per day) searching for MISSING information in messy desks and files. Time wasted as a result of disorganization DETRACTS from your ability to focus on what’s important in life. If piles of paper are ruining your productivity, it is time to get organized! The key is to set up your desk to effectively manage the paper flow, tackle the existing piles of paper, create a simple filing system, and maintain this system going forward.

You are probably wondering where to begin. Before tackling the existing piles, create a WORKSPACE that will enable effective paper flow and maximize your productivity. This will assist you during the sorting process and allow you to start using the new system immediately. Here are some steps to follow:
  • create an INBOX for all paper entering your office
  • create four ACTION trays (using stacking trays) and label them
  • ‘To FILE’ –- for all papers that need to be filed
  • ‘To DO’ –- for all papers that require you to take action
  • ‘To READ’ –- for all articles, journals, and publications
  • ‘To DELEGATE’ –- for jobs you can assign to someone else
  • add a VERTICAL file sorter to hold current projects
  • keep frequently used SUPPLIES in your office area

Once you have created the right environment, it is time to tackle your current BACKLOG of paper. First, find a spot where you can spread out for the duration of this project. Start at the top of the first pile, handling each piece of paper, and make a DECISION before moving on. You want to ask yourself the following questions:
  • What is the WORST thing that would happen if I got rid of this piece of paper?

  • Can I get another copy if I NEED it (from your hard drive, the company network, the internet, etc.)?

  • Is there someone else whom I can DELEGATE this task to?

  • Am I going to have TIME to read this?

  • Is the information CURRENT or out of date?
If you decide to keep the document, then put it in one of your action trays (To File, To Do, To Read, To Delegate).

As you sort through the piles, examine WHERE all of this paper is coming from. See if you can identify any unnecessary sources to REDUCE the amount of paper that enters your office (e.g. cancel a subscription, educate coworkers if an electronic copy is sufficient or if you don’t need personal copies).

Once you have completed the sorting process, you will likely have a stack of papers in your To File tray. You want to create a file system that makes SENSE to you –- there is no cookie-cutter solution that works for everyone. The objective of the file system is to store documents in a manner that makes it easy to FIND what you are looking for when you need it. Here are some guidelines to help you create a simple filing system that will enable you to find any paper you need without wasting time searching for it.
  • review your papers and identify three or four high-level CATEGORIES (e.g. house, car, insurance, utilities)

  • pick a COLOR for each category and use that color for all of the folders and tabs in the given category (color-coding enables you to more easily identify the categories and maintain them)

  • within each category, create a folder for each SUBCATEGORY (e.g. under utilities, a folder each for electric, gas, phone, water, etc.)

  • file your documents ALPHABETICALLY within each of these categories

  • don’t stuff the file drawers full -- you want to be able to easily search for what you need and allow ROOM for new files

No matter how superior the system is that is put in place, you must have a desire to MAINTAIN it. The paper is not going to disappear. The best way to sustain your results is to schedule uninterrupted maintenance time on your calendar to manage the paper.
  • On a DAILY basis, you should sort through your inbox and decide for each document whether to toss it or keep it. If you choose to keep it, then it should go into one of your action trays. Doing this exercise each day prevents important items from getting overlooked.

  • On a WEEKLY basis, you should sort through your action trays to avoid piles from forming and important documents getting missed. File everything in your To File tray, assign the items in your To Delegate tray, and prioritize the items in your To Do tray. I like to do this at the end of the week, so I can start fresh the next week.

The key to successful paper flow management in your workspace is having one CENTRAL location where all paper enters your office for your review (inbox) -- and then, through careful analysis, decide and DIRECT the paper to the appropriate destination. Either toss it or assign it to an action file. With this system in place you will never again lose sight of critical to-dos, important documents and urgent meetings.


Organized Office Solutions is a professional organizing firm dedicated to providing nonjudgmental and confidential services to business clients. We offer seminars, workshops, hands-on organizing and virtual organizing (anywhere in the world!) to help you manage your time, space and information. For more information, visit our website at www.OrganizedOfficeSolutions.com or contact us at [email protected] or (248)726-7096.

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