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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 September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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