It seems like no one is exempt; it’s not uncommon to have a bunch of unrelated documents gathered into a seemingly daunting pile. School schedules, medical forms, work projects, research results, letters, permission slips, event details, invitations et al. You’ll have to go through the whole pile in order to deal with each one of them. Following is an approach that limits the frustration.
Pencil, marker, stapler & staple remover, paper clips; 3 bins or bags marked: Trash, Recycle and Shred.
Separate ‘things’ from paper.
Books, magazines, office supplies, maps, journals, calendars, physical things like cups, glasses, do-dads… Even if they’re made of paper, in this case, we’ll consider them ‘things’.
Pick up just one piece of paper at a time.
Staple/clip papers that belong together; treat as if they’re one piece.
Decide if you should TOSS it or KEEP it.
If you can TOSS it, choose between Trash, Recycle or Shred.
If you need to KEEP it, choose between FILE or ACTION…
If you need to keep it but don’t need to take any action, you’ll just want to FILE IT…
Write with a pencil in the upper right corner of the document:
FILE: (which file folder) or New File: ________
e.g., Medical – tests, Financial – checking
(Make a ‘File’ pile of paper to be filed later.)
If it’s a To-Do or ACTION item…
Determine the specific ACTION you’ll need to take.
Write that action in the upper right corner.
e.g., Call by 10/25/11, write summary, give copy to staff etc.
Think along the lines of verbs like these: Call Go Do Read Write Consider Research Copy Fax etc.
Read with a pencil:
As you read any document (File or Action), circle all key information the first time you read it e.g., contact person, phone number, address, amount due, date due, any major points, so when you look at it a second time only that important information will jump out at you and you won’t have to read the whole document word for word again.
After you set aside all the trash/recycle items, you’ll have 2 piles:
FILE and ACTION
Place FILE items on or near your filing cabinet or in a file box to deal with a little later. (Schedule a time once a week for filing.)
Focus now on the ACTION pile;
cluster papers with similar actions together e.g., Calls with Calls, Read with Read, Write with Write, etc or cluster related documents together if they have a few different actions associated with them.
Finally, the best option is to schedule each action item in your calendar to ensure that it has a dedicated day and time in which to be completed.
Or, the next best option is to make a ‘to-do’ list (paper or digital) so your action items have at least been recorded.
Cluster similar actions together on that to-do list (or in chart form) so you can be more efficient: make a series of calls, run a handful of errands, accomplish a few tasks in one specific place (home, office, garage etc), mail several packages at once and so on.
Give yourself a ton of credit for tackling that monster mash of papers!
After all this you can simply practice prevention…
Read with a pencil,
Write File or Action
Make a pile: To Be Filed
…the first time you touch each document!
If any papers start chasing you around the room, remember that I’m here to help. I’ve got a knack with taming them!