Paperwork can be a dry subject (literally and figuratively!), so while I relay my expert tips for keeping paperwork under control, please also enjoy these very cute images of cats in business attire. Let’s go! 

Go Digital

The best way to manage paperwork is to make sure there’s never paperwork in the first place. Your bank statements, utility bills, and other recurring payments often have the option of digital delivery instead of paper. It’s eco-friendly, and it takes no physical space on your desk! 

Make sure that you download statements and other documents that you might need to refer to later. Your utility provider may clear old documents on their schedule instead of yours. 

Use RAFTS to Sort

The first step toward fully organized paperwork is to sort. When we are clearing someone’s desk, we use the RAFTS system: Recycle, Action, File, Trash/Treasure, and Shred.

Recycle any paperwork you no longer need that doesn’t contain sensitive information can be recycled. This includes things like advertisements, takeout menus, old Post-it notes, or junk mail.

Action items are anything that needs your attention, like a bill to pay or a letter to reply to, or phone calls to return.

File paperwork that contains things you will need later. Statements, school records, and policy documents fit into this category.

Trash/Treasure: Go through your paperwork and decide what’s worth keeping, and what’s worth letting go. Any paperwork with grease or other food on it can go. As for treasure, you can store holiday cards from family in a keepsake box. If you’re holding on to something you can’t remember receiving, consider recycling or trashing it to minimize clutter.

Shred anything with account numbers, social security numbers, or other non-public information that you no longer need. You don’t have to shred items with your name and address because that’s public information.

Use Vertical Storage

A long-time organizer friend describes papers as either lying down asleep or standing to attention waiting to take action. I like that analogy!  It encourages you to complete actions associated with paperwork. It also takes up less space on your desk. Use folders to keep papers upright! 

If you don’t have a ton of paperwork, a basic set of folders in an organizer (like this hanging one or this cute acrylic one) are a great way to go. Keep it eco-friendly with these recycled folders!
If your file needs are more intensive, look into filing cabinets. They range in size from desktop to straight-up industrial. Whatever filing cabinet you go for, I recommend using hanging file folders, which have hooks that prevent them from sliding under each other.

Develop a Prioritization System

If you have a backlog of action items, it’s best to develop a prioritization system to manage them. Use a combination of due dates and level of importance to decide what to tackle first. Your system can be very simple, or more complicated depending on the volume of paperwork you need to complete. Here are some ideas for your system in increasing complexity:

  • Do what’s in front first
  • 3 folder system – Folder #1 for hot/red/do now items, folder #2 for warm/orange/do soon items, folder #3 for cold/blue/do someday items 
  • 8 folder system – time based. Decide which day of the week you will be doing which items and drop them into the corresponding day of the week. The 8th folder is for anything that is not being done this week.
  • Keep a running list, inventory style. A numbered concertina file is best for this with a list of which slot each action item is in.
  • Tickler file. A system of 43 folders, one for each day of the month and one for each month. Decide when you will be doing the action and drop it into the corresponding day/month. This requires diligent action be taken each day to complete the tasks allocated for that day.
  • The more complicated a system, the more time it will take to maintain it unless you stay on top of it. 

Sort Your Mail NOW

Developing the habit of sorting and acting on incoming mail dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes to manage your paperwork. Be brutal with the advertising that comes to your home! Unless you’re actually, really going to use something, recycle it right then. Depending on how much mail you get, set aside time for mail once a day or once a week. Over time, it will become easier and easier to stay on top of it!

Keep Project Paperwork Together

When you keep paperwork for each project together, it’s a lot easier to pick it up where you left off. Folders are great for this. Label them clearly so you can easily find what you need.

Finish Stuff!

When you finish something, it can leave your desk. If you’re 80% of the way through fifteen things, you’ll have a lot more paperwork than if you complete some. If you have projects that are super close to being done, it’s time to buckle down! 

Finishing projects reduces paperwork, and it takes stress off of you, too. The mental weight of unfinished tasks, especially ones that have been hanging around for ages, can build up over time and lead to burnout. Make a habit of finishing what you start. 

See? Not so bad. Now you can have a clearer desk, and you got to see some cute cats do some cute office work!

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