The most important thing to remember about paper is to decide what you need to keep and define spaces to process it or to file it. If you haven’t decided what you need to keep it is very easy to just throw it in a pile to deal with “later”. Take the phrase “I’ll do it later” out of your vocabulary!!! It takes minutes to process paper on a daily basis and saves hours of work sorting through piles. The bonus: No stress from seeing paper piles laying all over your home or office.
Take the time to really think about the things you need to save. Remember if the paper doesn’t come into the home it doesn’t have to be processed. Resist printing information from the computer for future reference. Instead keep a journal of your favorite websites to refer to as needed.
The second most important thing is to create ONE central place to process all incoming paper and assign the task to one family member. If more than one person is in charge of bringing in the mail it is easy for systems to disintegrate.
Once paper is brought into the home make a decision on it immediately if possible but always within 24 hours. Get rid of unwanted paper immediately. I throw my junk mail away that is addressed to ‘Valued Customer’ or ‘Resident’ at the mailbox garbage. Keep a shredder close to your paper processing center to deal with identity theft concerns. Staples has a great tabletop shredder that is small and efficient. A stapler is also needed to attached multi page documents. Recycle envelopes and inserts.
There are three categories of paper that exist: Action, Reference and Trash. We have discussed the trash, the tips below cover the action category.
Using table top shelves create an action center to define a space for priority items and items that are not time sensitive but still need to be done. You can see the shelves I use on my desk by linking this paper management video . You can buy the shelves at Office Max. They come in silver and black. They are not the most attractive but they are the best thing that has happened to my paper.
Check high priority items on a daily basis and process as needed. This group can include bills to pay, permission slips, RSVP’s and anything else that is time sensitive. If you check it daily, you won’t forget anything.
Check the lower priority items, the “to do later” category, weekly. You can put items in this category that you want to do six months from now. If you check it weekly you will not forget them. Each week, make a decision on these papers. They might stay in the category, they could be moved into the higher priority shelf to be processed or they might become trash if they are no longer relevant.
Reference papers are those that are saved for legal reasons, tax reasons, warranties and certain receipts needed for proof of purchase and should be filed. Resist filing articles you have printed or torn from magazines. They are rarely referred to and clog up filing cabinets making filing more of a chore than it needs to be.
The other type of paper that tends to migrate to piles are notes to other family members and phone messages. For phone messages I love to use spiral journal to capture the info. I date the pages and refer back to them as needed. Consider creating a message board to relay information to your family. If you have enough wall space you can have a board for each family member. If space is limited use color coded post-its to stick each family members notes on the board. I love Office Max’s In Place post-its. They are super sticky, (so they won’t fall off) and come in five colors. Assign a color to each person in your family and let them know where to look for their messages. Ask them to take the messages off the board when they have received them.
I also love the idea of a central family calendar. Family members can sync their electronic devises to match the central calendar if that is how a particular person handles their schedule.
It is very important to have a family meeting and decide on a system that everyone understands.
If you have neglected your paper for a long time and have piles everywhere. Gather them up into one large bin, making sure that the time sensitive paper is separated, then make a commitment to process the paper for 20 minutes a day until it’s gone. Set a timer if need be.
Shredding is cathartic especially when done with your favorite beverage. Try it.