Paperwork. In a digital age you'd think there wouldn't be so much of it still, right? Well, think again. People are still drowning in it. Some of it by choice - they just can't stop hitting the print button - some of it not by choice - the schools seem to still be sending home a huge amount of paperwork especially elementary schools. I was originally all for switching everything to digital but over time as the Wild West of the Smartphone and app world dust has started to settle I've changed my tune. A lot. But that's another blog post for another day. That said, just because I'm not for putting all of my data in an app someone else owns that can be hacked that doesn't mean I think you should print every single email and never throw any piece of paper away or that having some things digital is all bad. There's a balance like with all of life.
Paperwork is a huge source of anxiety for a lot of my clients and may be for you as well. Many of them want a system to follow. Here's what I set up for everyone I work with that has me help them conquer their paperwork. I can help you conquer yours too, you'll get through it faster with me either in person or by phone, however it's something that you can do. I'm here to meet your needs with where you're at and what you're ready for. The key to this system though is that you have to actually do the maintenance of it. You can set up organizers for your paperwork all day but if you blow through your office like a tornado there is no organizer you can buy that will help you. This is the part of organizing that's like fitness, you have to do the crunches AND stop eating sugar to get the six pack. Not just one or the other. Just like you have to do my 3 Phase Process to get organized and then maintain the investment you've made. You are the best organizer money can buy. Your hard work, discipline and dedication is what will make you get and stay organized. Mind over matter. That said, once you've worked through my 3 Phase Process (Phase 1: Sort & Purge, Phase 2: Reorganization, Phase 3: Walk-through) this is what you can do to funnel your paperwork through in a manageable, realistic way.
Step 1: Inbox - this is for all of your unopened/unread mail & paperwork. I recommend using a wall hanging inbox for this near the door you walk in the most with your unopened mail. This is the drop spot to use instead of the middle of your kitchen island or kitchen counter while the dog jumps on you, kids fight & you do the "I've had to go to the bathroom for 45 minutes" dance. Put the mail there (or the kids' unread school paperwork) & let it sit while you let the dog out, wipe tears & finally use the restroom. It has a home to wait in until you have time to double back to it. The key is to keep it off of the counter in your kitchen. You can have an inbox for each family member if you like. Ideally you'll go through it once a day, once a week works too, once a month things will start to feel out of control. When you go through it read each document & decide what to keep & what to get rid of based on what you Need, Use & Love. The things you want to get rid of will be: shred (shred right away as much as you can, don't make a pile), recycle or throw away. The things you want to keep will be: something you have to do - if you can, do the task right away, if you can't see Step 2; something to put on display or in a keepsakes tote (think kid's schoolwork/artwork) or something to file to reference later - see Step 3. Here's a photo of my wall hanging inbox after a week of hardly being home. It's right by my front door. Sometimes it's empty, sometimes it's full. Once it's full it's time to clear the calendar and sort and purge.
Step 2: In Progress - this is for all of the documents that involve a task that you have to do. In other words your To Do List in document form. Ideally, as soon as you move something out of your inbox you'd take care of the task. However, we do not live in an ideal world. There's a lot of spinning plates to manage. Therefore, you need an organized spot for things to live until you can double back to them to take care of them. For this, I recommend a desktop document holder. I recommend keeping it where you will actually do the tasks. If you're a floater like me, meaning I float through different work stations within my home and work mobily as well, I chose a spot that's easy to access in my home office because that makes sense. However, if I always did tasks from my couch I'd store this station on an end table right next to the spot I sit in on the couch. You're more likely to do the tasks if they're where you'll do them and in your face not out of sight. This isn't about hiding what you need to do. It's about owning what you need to do and making it easy to get it done. Sometimes it makes sense to sort within the In Progress pile within the desktop document holder. Mine has items sorted by urgency and then also task, some of them are grouped together by binder clips. A lot of people like to use tabs or manila folders to separate urgent from long term or phone calls from computer tasks however, if putting the paper in a folder means it's out-of-sight, out-of-mind & you're not doing them because of that then don't do that. Ideally you're going through this station daily, weekly is best, monthly or longer things become overwhelming. I recommend blocking off time on your calendar to go through this station to actually get these things done. Here's a photo of my desktop document holder for my In Progress station. Sometimes it's more full than this, other times it's empty. Sometimes these things become things I don't end up doing which means they get pitched, this is the case for my clients too. Priorities and life change. Once a task is done the document goes to shred, recycle, trash or to Step 3: File System.
Step 3: File System - This is for the documents you want to reference later or have to keep (think taxes for 7 years). You need to be really honest about what you really Need to keep. A lot of people keep paperwork for years and decades from a fear based place. There's actually very little that you have to keep. If you own a business you're going to have to keep more than most. For file systems with a lot of files I do large, broad categories on the hanging file folder tabs and then subcategories on the manila folder tabs. For example, if someone has 20 different files for finances the broad category is Finance (it goes on the tab of the hanging file folder) and then the individual banks/accounts would get their own manila folder. For the average person this isn't necessary. For most homes the number of files is pretty minimal and you can just do labels on the manila folders and use the hanging file folders to hold the manila folders. No matter what, I always alphabetize the folders. The alphabet drives the organization so keep that in mind when you're creating the file names. If each family member has a health file then I lead with the word Health followed by the person's name. For example, Health - Henry; Health - Laura; Health - Oscar and so on. It's alphabetized 1st by H for Health and then by name, the word Health drives all of these folders to be one after the other. You can hand write or print labels for the folders, it's a matter of personal preference. Here's a photo of my hanging file system: sometimes it has less sometimes it has more. Right now it's pretty minimal. The pink tabs you see are to mark special categories within a folder of mine. Things move into the file system either directly from Step 1: Inbox or from Step 2: In Progress.
That's the Organized by Melissa 3 Step Paperwork Process. This can be used at home or at work. You can do it! Dig in: Sort & Purge, Reorganize and then give everyone in your family a Walk-through of the new system. If you need some help getting through it you know who to call! I can be reached at 616-916-0423. Happy Organizing!