How to Begin Processing Piles of Paper


Yesterday I helped a client who had come to the end of her string with the piles of paper in her office. She finally waved the white flag and said help. I asked her to take the pile she thought contained most important things to do. After two and a half hours we widdled down the pile. Much of the time was spent setting up and acclimating to the necessary structure as well as making decisions which I will outline below.

1 pile of mystery papers
Tools needed
1 to do list
1 calendar
1 phone/email/ address place

Pick up the first piece of paper and decide if you need it.

If not trash/recycle it. If needed proceed to next step.

Decide if you must take action on the paper. If not file it in reference file in a low real estate area.
If it needs action decide whether it needs to be done “now” (this week) or “later” (next month).
If it’s a very minimal note on the paper simply transfer the information to a “to-do now list” or “to-do later list” which will “live” together.
Begin the to-do note with an action word, i.e. “write, call, review”, etc. Make sure to allow for space in between to-dos so that you can add notes and for ease of viewing.
If the paper has more information than you want to copy start a new pile, tray, basket or file (according to your preference or what you have on hand) named either “to do now” or “later” and make a note on the respective to-do list regarding this task and where the paper can be found, i.e. “to do now” or “to do later” pile, basket, file or tray.

If the to-do is date-relevant mark it on your calendar when you need to begin it and again where the associated paperwork is stored, i.e. to-do now or to-do later pile. In this way you will not lose track of your paper. All roads lead to the to-do lists and calendar. This is the bible of your command center where information is processed as efficiently as possible.
Alternatively you can write the to-do on your now or later list beginning with the date as long as you can make your list chronological so that you will see it when the actual date arrives.

If the paper is waiting information from someone else before you can take action (a receipt printed out on the computer waiting for the product to arrive before you can file it for taxes or trash it put it in a place called “pending”. When the information/item arrives from the outside you can then take action.

If the paper has contact information decide when you will need to use it. If it’s only for one project that will come and go in a short time store it in the file named after the project. If it’s a contact you will use over long term add it to your contact storage system (Rolodex, telephone/address book, cell)

Place calendar, to-do lists and contacts in a place established and reserved for these things only within arms reach while seated at your desk. Nothing else can “live” there and these tools cannot live anywhere else except in transit to home or meetings. In order for it to work the calendar must be referred to two or three times a day. You should take your calendar with you everywhere so that when dates arise you can check to see if you have a conflict or not and enter the new date ASAP.
Back up all of these three tools. If you use a paper system take as little of it on the road as possible in case you lose it.

Schedule time each day to file papers delegated to reference files. This often gets put off because it is a low priority. But if put off too long it will become a priority when you can’t find a paper that should have been in its file and you have to sort through the pile waiting to be filed to find it.

Finished product:

calendar, contact place, to-do list/s, to-do now and to-do later and pending places.

Method: Sort, Purge, Contain, Maintain, in that order

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