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Get Organized With 4 Ways To Win The Paper War

Get Organized With 4 Ways To Win The Paper War

In my thirteen plus years working as a professional organizer I’ve done my share of organizing paper! I have done more paper organizing than any other type of organizing. Why? Because paper is one of the hardest things to organize and keep organized.

    Paper is so difficult to organize because

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    1. It’s boring
    2. It’s flat and therefore hard to see that you’re making progress very quickly
    3. It’s never ending–it keeps coming in every day
    4. It’s usually primarily black and white which is hard on the eyes
    5. It requires that a decision be made about every piece–really tough for people who have a hard time making decisions.

    Is it any wonder that it’s quite common for people to procrastinate organizing their papers when there are so many other compelling tasks to be done that are much less annoying? Unfortunately, putting off managing paper only costs you more in the long run because as the quantities of it build up, your inclination to deal with it diminishes in equal proportion. Before long you have a paper nightmare, one that causes all kinds of bad feelings like anxiety, depression, self-disgust, anger, irritation and exhaustion.

    Since sorting and organizing paper is part of my everyday working experience, I’ve developed some general guidelines for handling paper that keep me sane and moving forward.

    1.  Never start with paper unless it is the only thing you have to organize.

    If you start with paper, you will quit. You’ll run away! You’ll go shopping, watch TV, eat a cake or decide the lawn just has to be mowed right now. Paper will shut you down.

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    I learned that starting with paper is a big mistake the hard way in my first year as an organizer. I took a client’s lead and started with paper. Halfway through the session the client had an asthma attack, ran to the bathroom and threw up. The lesson I took from that dramatic experience was that it’s not a good organizing strategy to start with paper!

    The only way to effectively deal with paper is to back into it. In other words, don’t tackle it head on. Have a blast evaluating, sorting and purging everything else in your space first. Then when the room is feeling great and all that’s left to do is sort and clear paper, you’ll find paper easier to handle.

    2. Never start with single sheet of paper at the top of a paper pile.

    It’s important that you make some visible progress quickly when organizing paper. The best way to do that is to throw away as much as you can as fast as you can. Therefore, you must first process BIG CHUNKS of paper like magazines, newsletters and papers stapled together. You will see yourself as a success when your paper pile goes down quickly and you’ll stay motivated to keep working.

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    3. Keep only those papers that you are likely to USE.

    Most people keep too much paper either because they don’t know what to keep, so they keep everything because that’s the safe thing to do, or they postpone making decisions for fear they’ll make a mistake, resulting in holding on to large volumes of useless paper. Many people don’t slow down enough to think about what papers they really need to keep. Keeping everything seems like the best insurance against not having the papers they need at a time when they need them. But, can they find them when they need them? The more paper you keep, the more work you must do to keep them organized and accessible!

    My advice is to reflect back on your history and remember those times when you needed to retrieve papers. The kinds of papers you needed in the past are the types you are likely to need in the future. The times that come back to me most vividly were when I was buying a house or applying for a loan. Keep only those papers you are likely to use at some later date.

    When in doubt about whether to keep a certain type of paper ask yourself, “How will I use this?” If you can’t come up with a past memory of using that type of paper or you can’t think of a way that you could use it in the future, pitch it! And, celebrate! You just made your life easier!

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    4. Make paper leave your space every day.

    Eighty to 90% of paper that is filed NEVER gets used again. Becoming more discerning and committed to purging paper will lighten your load and empower you. Be sure to process mail every day–meaning, sort it, pitch the obvious junk mail, and deliberately store papers that require further action or filing in specific places where they can be easily retrieved at a later date. Taking regular action to purge paper will keep you in the power position relative to paper. Postponing working with paper is akin to telling paper to go ahead and take over. Vigilance with paper purging takes only minutes per day and will save you hours and hours of agony at a later date.

    Image: Kozumel

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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