I'm starting a five part series on managing paper. Getting paper under control is one of the biggest issues my clients have. So, herewith is part one.
Identify to clarify
One of the biggest reasons paper accumulates is that people don't know what it is. By this I mean that paper goes into miscellaneous piles, important lumped in with junk mail, until it becomes a big mass of intimidation.
If you were only looking at the important stuff, your pile would be waaaaay smaller. Promise!
This is a great reason to station your shredder and recycling bag wherever you sort your mail. Get that junk mail out immediately. Don't even put it in a pile.
Identify what you've got
Start with the five basic categories: delegate, read, act on, file and trash. That's D-R-A-F-T. Delegate means someone else, like your spouse, handles that paper, a bill or event announcement for example.
Read includes books, magazines, newsletters, professional bulletins and school updates. Books: I suggest not buying books if you have a nightstand full of unread ones. Make a list of books you'd like to read and buy them as you have reading time.
Magazines should be read and enjoyed during the time period before the next one comes. Stockpiling them is the road to disaster. There's a tipping point, after which you will never catch up.
Reading material for your work should be cherry picked for information that's actually relevant to you doing your job right now. Face the fact that you do not have time to read every interesting article that gets published. Doing some reading is better than no reading.
School and community newsletters should be mined for important dates and events. Those go on your calendar. Keeping a bulletin around will not insure that you make deadlines unless you happen to look at it again.
Act on includes anything you have to do something about; pay bills, fill in forms, sign up for classes, supply information, product and service offers (ones you are actually interested in) renew subscriptions and make appointments. These items should go in your in box to separate them.
The File category should be used sparingly. File tax and insurance documents and medical records. Don't file things that will quickly go out of date, have information you can easily find online or are no longer relevant. This includes catalogs, investing prospectuses and meeting agendas.
When was the last time you really looked in your file cabinet? Didn't you see a lot of old junk in there? Just saying'.
Trash means recycling and shredding. I believe in shredding as you go. Shredding is noisy and time consuming, unless you're shredding two envelopes a day. Or you have an 8 year old who loves the noise and will do it for you.
Offers you're not going to buy, events you aren't going to, solicitations you don't care about, store circulars for places you never go. This is an opportunity to be realistic about how much time, money and energy you're willing to expend on what are usually low level offers.
Part two is about getting less coming in. That means less to sort and less to deal with!