It’s said that we live in a digital age and I suppose that we do. We go nowhere without our smartphones, we read books and catch up on the news on our e-readers, and communicate with business contacts, friends and family alike through email. So, yes I guess you can say we are a “wired” society.
If that’s the case, why is it that so many of us suffer from paper overload? From stacks of papers covering our desks, to smaller piles on the kitchen counter, and the ever- growing pile of newspapers that we are going to read “soon.”
And, even the folks that are card carrying “techies” have desks which are often covered with paper. What’s a person to do?
How to Best Tame Your Paper Clutter
Have a Designated Location For Your Papers
It’s not only about appearance, but it’s also about being able to locate important and even not so important papers quickly. There is nothing more frustrating than knowing you have a specific document that you need to review and not being able to find it in a timely fashion. Wasted time, added stress … who needs it? Decide where and how you want to organize your papers, and don’t scatter them everywhere.
Try to Touch Your Papers Once
While this is an accepted time management technique, it also works well when organizing papers. If you pick up a document make certain that you also have enough time to read it, decide what to do with it, and then handle it accordingly. File it, throw it away, put it in an envelope to send to someone else — just don’t put it down in the same place only to repeat the process all over again.
Establish a Schedule
Most paperwork can be accomplished on some sort of schedule. For instance, you can pick a specific day of the month to pay bills, and assign a set time of day to review mail and/or written documents that have crossed your desk. “Bundling your tasks” (i.e. paying bills, filing, etc.) can be a much more efficient way to get things done versus doing a little bit here and there and having the task drag on almost indefinitely.
Know What You Have to Keep and What You Don’t
It’s important to know what papers you must retain forever and which ones you can get rid of and when. Check with your financial and legal advisors for guidelines or review some of the online resources like the
USA.gov website (household papers) and IRS.gov (business papers).
*Update 2/13/18: Thanks to reader, Kathy V., for noticing that Publications.USA.gov has been discontinued. Check this self-learning resource from MSU Extension and this article from CreditCard.com for helpful information about managing household paperwork.
Stick With It
Many people start out with the best of intentions and, within a short period of time, they are taking shortcuts or have simply given up on their paper organizing plan altogether. Keeping paper clutter under control is an ongoing endeavor. The more attention you pay to setting up simple systems (with few steps to follow), the easier it will be to maintain it for the long haul.
Think About Automation
And, while you’re at it, consider some of the ways that you can automate your paper files. Many companies give you the option to review and pay your bills online, and you can certainly scan and maintain documents electronically. If that’s your preference, be 100% certain that you have a backup in place. Computers fail, glitches occur, and you don’t want to be caught in the lurch.
Take a look around. Are your papers where you need them to be and can you find them quickly and easily? If not, set aside a few hours (or more time if necessary) to sort, throw out, shred, organize, and tame the paper clutter in your home or office.
Stephanie is a professional organizer in works with business owners to streamline operations, improve time management, and to design a functional home office.