It’s a seemingly ubiquitous and never-ending aspect of business life. We have come a long way from typewritten receipts and library card catalogs, but despite our modern use of computers and electronic correspondence, paper still manages to sneak its way into piles on the desk, files in the drawer and often into every other conceivable nook and cranny of the office. How to stay organized?
In my career as a Professional Organizer, I have come across all manner of paper woes, most of which stem back to one identical origin story—there is no system in place.
Without a system for processing paper, it becomes all too easy to lose to-dos and action items amid other strains of correspondence. As a result, chaos ensues!
As professional organizers, Organizers NW specializes in helping folks to get their paper organized once and for all. The key is to create a system that works for each individual client—it has to fit your personal habits, workflow, and needs in order to be sustainable in the long term. We have some great step-by-step instructions over on our blog for how to organize and corral all of that paper. Today however, I’d like to provide you with some universal truths I’ve observed with my small business clients as we have organized their paper. My hope is that these will inspire you to go to town on your own office!
Truth #1: Horizontal is Hidden
One of the big issues our clients deal with is searching for paper. This often happens because their paper immediately goes into piles as it enters the office. We like to say “horizontal is hidden, vertical is visual.” If you look around you right now and see piles on your desk, chances are you sometimes have trouble finding what you need. Sound familiar? Keep reading!
Truth #2: Action vs. Reference
In order to keep your paper—and subsequently your business life—organized, it is very important to separate action-related paper from reference paper (items that can simply be filed). Setting up a small, vertical reference file on your desktop for action-oriented paper will help you to keep those items separate (directions for how to do that here), and keep it from going into mixed piles. All other paper can go into your file cabinet or drawer, or into an inbox or file on your desk marked “To File”. Setting up a system to separate these two categories is the first step toward getting organized.
Truth #3: Trim the F.A.T
As you are organizing your paper, keep Professional Organizer Barbara Hemphill’s rule in mind, “There are only three things that you can do with paper: File it, Act on it, or Toss it.” It’s that simple. Remember this as you are sorting and making decisions. Ask yourself whether you can find the information online or if it is stored somewhere else in the office. Keep only what you need.
Truth #4: Let your Paper Speak to You
As you create action-oriented files, add a sticky note with the date and instructions for what you need to do with that paper. That way, when you come back to it later, you will know exactly what is required of you—relieving your brain significantly. Writing down the to-do also helps to anchor it in your memory. Once all of your action-related paper is in one place, you can “batch” those tasks within one sitting.
Truth #5: File for Retrieval
As you file reference-oriented paper, choose file names that make sense to YOUR brain. Store-bought tabs don’t provide a customized reference system and often fail to keep you organized. Instead, create file tabs that make sense to you and how you think. Choose broad topics like “Office Manuals” rather than “Canon Printer.” Don’t make single files for one piece of paper—you will end up with too many files and a confusing system. Straight-line filing also makes tabs easy to see (choosing all center-cut tabs, for example).
Time to Make a Date!
Now that you have a nice starting point, you need to actually make the time to go through this process. Paper always takes more time to organize than other objects, so plan accordingly. Make the time to go through this process—block it off on your calendar, turn off the phone and focus on paper organizing. The time, energy, and stress you will save yourself will far outweigh the initial time investment. Your clients will be impressed by your organization, you will have more time in your day and be more present and focused on your current workload. Happy organizing!
As a Certified Lean Practitioner and 5S Expert, Veronica Bishop is trained to identify office place waste and to increase flow and functionality within a space. With an additional background in teaching and as a Certified Life coach, Veronica is driven to help clients set goals for projects and follow through to success. She loves helping people realize their objectives by asking powerful questions about their hopes and dreams for the space, and providing feedback and support when needed. Her motto is “clean out the closets of your mind”!