How do messes like this happen?
Until I started working as a professional organizer I had no idea that spaces could get like this. Sure, I’d find myself frustrated by a pile of paper from time to time, but paper never took over my space.
So, how does it get this far along? What causes this kind of chaos? Here are some possible answers.
- Paper comes in at a rate that is faster than the rate at which it is processed.
- There is no system for processing and storing the paper.
- Decisions about what to do with papers are postponed and papers land in undifferentiated piles.
- The person is not being selective about what papers to keep and what to throw away.
- The person is not devoting enough time to managing the paper flow.
How could this person turn this paper challenge around?
- Commit time to complete an initial organization (sorting, purging and filing) of the papers in the space. Then plan to make time at least once a week to process incoming papers and file papers that are worthy of being kept.
- Reduce the volume of paper coming in by sorting mail over the recycling bin or trash, keeping only those papers that require an action or filing. In other words, don’t let the junk mail make it into your home office!
- Reduce the volume of paper coming in by leaving church bulletins at church, and getting rid of papers and handouts given to you at conferences, workshops, and at meetings with financial planners and insurance agents that you know you’ll never reference BEFORE you enter your office.
- Reduce the volume of paper coming in by reducing magazine and journal subscriptions to just those that actually get read from cover to cover every month.
- Get rid of magazines and journals monthly by creating deadlines for how long they will be kept and recycling or throwing them out when they reach that deadline.
- Reduce the volume of paper by becoming much more selective about what to keep and what to get rid of. Keep only those papers and publications that are needed for current actions or are most likely to be referenced at a later date. The only paper worth keeping is paper you WILL use!
- Set up a filing system for paper storage so paper can be easily accessed when needed.
- On the desk, keep only papers that require an action. Those papers can be separated into actions that must occur immediately and those that can occur later. Those that must occur immediately should be most accessible.
- Store papers and publications that are considered “reading” in a location away from the desk top. A tray on a shelf, in a basket near a chair where you’re likely to read, or in a briefcase to read on a plane or in a doctor’s office are good locations for papers that are optional reading. Optional reading means, if they don’t get read, there will be no significant consequences other than not benefitting from the information they contain. Reading should not be mixed with papers that require an action.
- When you encounter paper that does not require action or filing and you are uncertain what to do with it, place it in a tray or file that is off the desk. Label that file “Possibilities.” Consider this the location for papers that you don’t know what to do with at the moment. By giving those papers their own location, they won’t stop you in your tracks and become the bud of an undifferentiated pile on your desk. The better organized you become, the easier it will be to discern what to do with those papers. In the meantime, those puzzling papers will be grouped together, available but not blocking progress. Periodically look through those papers when you add new papers. You’ll find that given a little time you’ll know what to do with them–most likely toss them!
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