Getting your paperwork organized can be an overwhelming task if you’ve procrastinated too long. The key is getting caught up, then having a system in place so you don’t fall behind again. Here’s one way that can help you get through the piles quickly – in just three days.
Start by setting aside three days to focus on your paperwork. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are great times for getting organized.
Day 1: Paperwork central
- Pick a place that you will keep all of your paper work on. This is your “Paperwork Central.” It can be a section of your desk, an out of the way place on the floor, or the dining room table.
- Go around the house and round up all your papers and bring it to your Paperwork Central.
- Don’t forget your backpack, purse or front seat of the car.
- Get all your paper – newspapers, bills, junk mail, assignments, magazines, homework, notes, letters, everything. About the only paper you don’t want in this pile is your books.
This step should take you about 15-30 minutes. When you are done, congratulate yourself, you are getting organized! Does the pile look overwhelming? Don’t worry, we’ll get through it quickly on Day 2.
Did you find anything important when rounding everything up? Choose one thing, and do it now!
Day 2: Quick Sort
- Go through every piece of paper and sort it into one of these piles:
c. to do
d. save (filing)
- Do not spend time reading or thinking about each piece. It’s easy to get distracted here by thinking about each thing. Don’t! Just keep thinking, “All I’m doing is sorting stuff into piles. I have time to take care of this later.”
- Set a timer; see how fast you can do it. Your job is to stay focused on sorting and do this step quickly. This step is about getting organized, not doing any work.
- Don’t get distracted by the urgent pile. Your job right now is getting things sorted.
- Take the recycling out right now. Doesn’t it feel great to get rid of that huge pile!
- Put your reading pile somewhere you’ll look at it… in the bathroom, on the coffee table, by your bed.
This step may have taken you as little as an hour, or much longer if you’ve really let things go. (Hope not!) Take a break if you are getting stressed. It’s important that you feel like you control your piles – they aren’t controlling you. So take a break when you need to and come back later to do more.
When you are done with your sort, pick one urgent matter that you uncovered when doing this step, and take care of it now.
Day 3: To Do List
- Go through your “to do” pile and make a list of what is in it. This is your To Do list. It’s easier to look at a list than having to shuffle through the pile every day.
- Prioritize your list and put the most important items at the top of your page, the less important ones go towards the bottom.
- Post your list on your fridge or somewhere else you’ll see it.
- Look it every morning and pick the things you want to get done that day.
- Having trouble getting started? Start with the easy stuff. Again, you are in charge of your list, it isn’t in charge of you!
This step should take no more than a half hour. All you are doing is writing down your to do list. When you are all done, pick at least one high priority or urgent item and take care of it.
Be sure to cross stuff off your list when you do them. And reward yourself when you’ve accomplished 10 or 15 of your items. You’ll never have a finished to do list. So it’s important that you celebrate keeping on top of it.
Congratulations! You’ve got your paperwork under control. And along the way, you’ve started taking care of your “To Do’s.” Now it’s time to keep it that way.
CREATING A SORTING SYSTEM THAT WORKS
Now that you are organized, stay that way. Every time you bring paper into the house, whether it is mail, or school work, or something else, bring it to your Paperwork Central location and sort it right away.
- Don’t drop it on the dining room table if your Paperwork Central is in your bedroom.
- Do open all envelopes – especially for your bills, and recycle what you don’t need to keep.
- Do add items to you “to do” list as necessary and look at it each day to stay on top of it.
- You don’t need to buy fancy organizers for Paperwork Central, but you can if you’d like. The key is staying on top of it as is comes in.
A QUICK WORD ON FILING:
Does anyone like filing? NO! The key for filing is only keeping things you really need. Obviously financial stuff like tax records need to be filed. And you’ll probably want to keep school work for the quarter. But beyond that, try not to save very much stuff. The less paper you save, the less filing you have. Some people like to file things right away (like doing the dishes). Other people like to let it pile up and do it all in a quick hour or so. Figure out what works for you. Just be sure to keep your long-tem files separate from your bills, urgent and “to do” piles!
Top Ideas for Staying Organized:
- Paperwork Central: set aside a place for all your paperwork
- Quick sort: sort things into piles as you get them
- To Do List: keep a to do list to make it easy to see what’s on your agenda
- Take care of the easy stuff first. You’ll feel less overwhelmed when you have less to do.
- Don’t get overwhelmed. With just a little work every day, you can stay in control.
What tricks do you use to keep on top of your paper piles? If you’ve got a system that works, we’d love to hear from you.