How to Organize Paperwork

Do you know how to organize paperwork?  

Even in a digital age, at least some paper is still going to cross your path; dealing with it is just one of those things you just have to do.

How well you do it is your choice, so use a system that works for you at work and home.

Wherever you are, things will flow smoothly when you can get the information you need quickly and easily.

Essentially, your paperwork is anything and everything you want to read, record, remember, or refer to.

What's the issue?

Paperwork comes in random forms at random times. Some things you probably know what to do with; others tend to gather on an ever growing ‘What do I do with this?’ pile.

Things get left, things get lost and life becomes harder than it should be.

The solution

Fixing paperwork problems means you have to do something about it. To be specific, there are two things:

Get the supplies

If you want to know how to organize paperwork you’ll need to invest a bit of time and money. Doing so will repay you many times over, so make this an ‘event’.

Buy what you don’t already have from the following:

  • An A4 size ‘capture’ tray to dump incoming paperwork into
  • Another A4 ‘action’ tray for paperwork you will process
  • At least one A4 box file for your paperwork backlog (if you have one)
  • Ring binder files for anything sequential and topic related
  • Clear plastic wallets that allow you to sweep up loose items
  • Envelopes are ideal for smaller things such as receipts
  • Filing cabinet to store the…
  • Hanging files and labels that you keep near your work
  • Coloured pens and sticky labels
  • Hole puncher 
  • Scissors and stapler
  • Dividers, both coloured and numbered
  • Magazine holders that store reading material neatly

You’ll obviously need somewhere to put things, which means shelf space. Either put them up or use a bookshelf that can accommodate A4 sized files.

You don’t specifically have to have these things. Stationers sell such a wide variety of office supplies, so ‘cut to fit’ your needs and preferences.

Okay, what next?

Try the system

One day’s work takes one day to process.

There is a limit to how much paperwork you can process in one day.

The best way to tackle it?

One day at a time.

More specifically, deal with one day’s worth of paperwork each day – the day after you receive it.

You have stuff coming in daily, and you probably have a backlog you still want to tackle, too.

Here’s how to organize paperwork:

  • If you’ve got a backlog, shove it all in an A4 box file. Allocate some time each day to reduce the backlog. How much time? Whatever suits you. The point is you do something.
  • Put all today’s incoming paperwork into your capture tray. Check it before you do in case anything needs doing urgently. Leave it in there until the morning.
  • First thing, put the contents of your capture tray into your action tray. That, along with your backlog is what you process; no more, no less.As the day goes on, where do you put incoming paperwork?You guessed it –- the capture tray!

Okay, so you pick up the first item to act on. You either deal with it, defer it or dump it.

Let’s look at all three…

  • Deal with it. Does it need to be actioned? If it’s a bill, pay it; an invoice? File it, (although you may delegate work tasks such as this). Whatever it is, do something with it. Even reading material with no deadline gets read.If you can’t, don’t or won’t, it gets recycled into your capture tray.
  • Defer it. Some things can’t be dealt with until a later date. Defer them by putting them into a hanging file which corresponds to the date.  Have 31 hanging files; one for each day of the month. Put the tickets, meeting agenda or whatever it is you have to do in the file for that date.
  • Dump it. Even with a ‘pre-put-in’ filter, some junk will make it into your capture tray, and will certainly be in your backlog. Bin it.

So far, the focus has been on how to organize paperwork. What about when to organize it?

This is an important consideration. You probably haven’t got the time or inclination to spend all day and night doing paperwork (have you?!)

Instead, batch it. Make paperwork a priority at certain times. Go through it at the start and end of your day. In between, aim to allocate a block of time to deal with it.

Not possible? Then fit things in when and where you can. Yes, use routines; but there’s no need to be a slave to them.

If you want to know how to organize paperwork then try this system. It works if you use it. Adapt and refine it to suit your needs and circumstances, until you know exactly what goes where.

This principle also applies to email.

Once you know how to organize paperwork you’ll waste less thought, time and effort on things that really don’t need or deserve excessive amounts of your time and attention.

Now you can spend it on things that do.

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