Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dealing with paper - Part 2

If you've read part 1 of this series of dealing with paper, you've got the older and most important papers in order, right? If you haven't read part 1, I recommend doing that first. Older papers and important papers take the least amount of time to deal with, yet you will feel such satisfaction with getting those taken care of. Time to move on to the more current, or daily influx of papers that come into our homes.

Once again, you're going to gather all your current papers into one location. This will include today's mail, yesterday's mail, last week's mail, maybe even last month's mail. Also you should be gathering receipts from purchases, repairs, advertisements, coupons, anything that you have deemed valuable enough to save in the first place. Next your going to need three boxes labeled TO DO, TO READ, TO FILE. Anything that doesn't fall into one of these three categories is most likely going to be trash, so have a shredder and/or a large trash bag nearby.

Begin sorting every single piece of paper into one of the three boxes. If you're not sure, put it in the TO FILE box and we'll deal with that later. This is called a defining sort and shouldn't take you too long to make decisions. Here's an idea of what you might be putting into each box:

To Do
·         Bills to pay
·         Invitations to respond to
·         Address changes
·         Requests from school that require a response
·         Bank statements to be balanced
·         Projects that you’re working on right now
To Read
·         Newsletters
·         Magazines
·         Catalogs
·         Personal letters
·         School information
To File
·         Bank Statements (balanced)
·         Credit card statements
·         Catalogs that you order from
·         Receipts for charitable contributions
·         Statements from financial investments
·         Statements from utility bills
·         School reference information
·         Receipts for repairs (home or automobiles)

Let's tackle that TO DO box first. Now, if you've never created a TO DO file before, it may feel a little overwhelming. At first it may feel like a huge project, but after just a few short weeks, it will become a part of your daily life. You may want to sub-divide it into different categories like; bills, phone calls to make, forms to fill out and mail, school papers to send in, etc. Whatever it looks like to you, just know that you'll feel more in control when this huge pile is whittled down to just a few things to handle daily.

If you don't already use some sort of planner, I advise you to start using one. I use Planner Pad https://plannerpads.com/index.asp and have come to love seeing in front of me what I have to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. With your TO DO box sorted into your categories, you should now put into your daily planner things that have the top priority. Next would come the items that aren't as high a priority to do within the next week, and finally, things that can wait go into the next months category.  
If you can, write down pertinent information about the task at hand into your planner and discard the paper. If you must keep the paper, get a folder and label it "TO DO" and keep the paper in there. Decide where your TO DO folder will reside and make sure it stays uncovered and on the top of your desk or work space.

The TO READ box will be the simplest box to deal with. Put the box near the space where you like to read. Take a little time each day to pull out and read a small stack of material. Some of these items will become TO DO items and should be handled accordingly; put them on your daily priority planner and tackle them like the other TO DO items you have. Some will become TO FILE items, and some will just go right to the trash or shredder.

The TO FILE box will require a bit more time and thought to tackle. First, if you've never set up a filing system, you'll need a few supplies. Some people will be fine with manila folders, a pen and a file box. Other people will feel the need to get out their label maker, colored coded file folders, hanging folders with tab markers, etc. (see photo). I fall into the latter category, but that's just me! I work with clients who are just as satisfied with writing the folder name on the manila file folder and call it a day. I say, "To each their own!" No one way is the "right way". Do whatever you feel comfortable with.

If you do have current files, go through them and purge what you don't need anymore. This will allow you to see what you don't really need to keep and what's most important to you. I want to point out here that this is the time to be realistic about filing. Only create a file if the item(s) going into it are so important that you know you'll be going back into it frequently or that you have to be able to find that particular piece of paper immediately when and if you need it. Statistically, 80% of filed papers are never referenced again. 50% of all filed materials are duplicates or expired information. So really give some thought as to what you're going to keep. Don't file it just because you have it. Is it information you can get somewhere else? Library, internet, reference book, etc. If so, consider letting the paper go.

Here are some categories to get you thinking:

·         Financial
·         Life Insurance
·         Home
·         Medical
·         Educational
·         Legal
·         Car
·         Charitable Contributions

If a category is too broad, like financial, you may want to break it down into subcategories such as: bank accounts, investment accounts utility statements, credit cards, etc. Medical to you may mean: insurance (medical, dental, vision), reports, flexible spending account, etc. Make sure it makes sense to you since the purpose is to be able to put your fingers on any document you may need within seconds.

Plastic filing box
Two drawer vertical cabinet

Decide where you're going to keep your newly set up filing system. There are as many types of containers as there are colors of folders. Make sure it has convenient access and that you can keep it up to date.

On a final note, creating this new system doesn't mean the papers will file themselves or put themselves into the shredder. You have to maintain your system on a weekly, if not daily basis. If you're using a new planner, be sure to write in time to file as one of your "TO DO's". By just having a system in place, the time spent on filing will be a fraction of what it used to be. You'll be able to make decisions quickly and know exactly where a piece of paper should live.

I hope you got some ideas to get your paper under control, and that you are motivated to do some filing and purging. Not many things feel better than having all the papers in your house containerized and off the desk or work table. You just feel so free and you now will have time to spend doing things you really like, rather than feeling the weight of all that paper hanging around your neck.