How often have you paid a bill late, or totally missed an important event because the paper to remind you was buried in a stack somewhere? Do you know where all your paperwork is to file your taxes? Admit it, your “system” for dealing with papers isn’t really a system, it’s just piles of chaos.
By applying the GTD Method from the last post, you can tackle your paper clutter once and for all. By setting up a system to Capture, Clarify, Categorize and Choose your Next Action, you’ll wave goodbye to paper chaos forever.
When you’re first starting out, gather all your papers to a central location. This might take a little while to do, and don’t worry if you miss things this first go around, just add them as you find them or think of them.
Also, designate a permanent inbox location where all future papers will gather. You can use a file folder, one of those office inbox trays, or whatever suits your fancy. I personally use a multi-folder pocket like this, because I found a cute flamingo one for $1 at Staples.
Next, you’re going to process your papers. Take each paper and ask yourself three questions:
- Do I need to keep this? If yes, move to question 2. If no, toss it.
- Does this require action? If yes, set aside into an “action needed” pile until the next step. If no, move to question 3.
- Do I need to keep this as a reference? If yes, set aside into a “reference” pile until the next step. If no, then your answer to question 1 was probably wrong and you can toss it.
Next, you’re going to sort your papers into categories. My paper categories are:
- Action needed
- Hold for later use
These are bills that need to be paid, phone calls that need to be made, etc. Papers that I’m holding onto because something needs to be done about them. Put your pile you made in the last step right into this folder.
Paid bills and the like are filed into this folder. I also scan receipts from any house or car maintenance so I have a record of when things were done. Let’s be honest, I don’t remember what year I replaced my water heater.
I either shred or toss the papers after scanning them.
Digitizing my papers is the best way I reduce paper clutter. I started to digitize when I married my husband because of all the paperwork we got from Medicare. There was no way to possibly keep it all.
Most of the papers I want to keep for reference, I will scan and save to Google Drive. Google Drive is completely free to use, all you need is a Gmail account and you can save up to 15GB of data. And you can use your phone’s camera to scan documents. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
I started using Google Drive after I had a couple hard drives crash and I lost everything. With Google Drive, everything is saved to the cloud and backed up by Google. Plus, you can access your documents anywhere. There’s a free Drive app you can download to any device and you can sign into Google Drive from any browser. It’s life-changing.
These are papers that need to be filed into my important documents box. This includes things like my contact and glasses prescriptions, my pets’ AVID chip registrations, things I feel the need to keep a physical copy of.
Hold for later use
I use this folder to keep my papers for tax preparation and tickets for events. I will also keep reminders of things I’m expecting in the mail, such as receipts, or my car registration postcard, after I’ve paid for it online.
This folder holds invitations for events and anything else I want to keep nearby for reference.
Feel free to use my categories or come up with different ones that work better for you. My system is not for permanent paper storage, my goal is to process the papers and then get rid of them. Keep playing with the categories until they fit your needs. If you do need to permanently store papers, I suggest organizing them by topic, such as Home, Husband Medical, Cat, Truck, etc.
Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash
4. Choose Next Action
This is where you break down the papers from your “action needed” folder. Start a to-do list and then go through your folder, asking yourself, “What’s my next actionable step?” for every paper. Write that action on your to-do list. Keep each paper in your “action needed” folder until you’re completely done processing it, then toss it, scan it, file it or save it as a reference.
Saturday morning, I go through my inbox and process any papers I’ve gathered throughout the week. A lot of the time, if I’m not busy, I categorize my papers as they come in, or process my inbox every couple days.
Once a week, I scan whatever’s in my “scan” folder, and file what’s in my “file” folder. I go through my “action needed” folder and add my next actions to my to-do list. I flip through my “hold for later use” folder to see if I should be concerned about orders that haven’t arrived or if any of the papers can be moved to the scan, file or references folders. Lastly, I go through my “references” folder to see if any of the papers would be better stored on Google Drive, and I add events from invitations to my calendar.
That’s it! The initial paper processing can be time-consuming, but it’s worth it. And by keeping up with it every week, it’ll never get that bad again. Goodbye paper clutter!
Designate an inbox to capture all your papers; then clarify if you can toss them, if action is needed on them or if they’re a reference. Next, categorize your reference papers. Lastly, choose your next action for each paper in your “action needed” folder and add the action to your to-do list.
Make an appointment with yourself every week to process the papers you’ve captured in your inbox and never get bogged down by paper chaos again!