Tackling Personal Paperwork – Part 3: Organizing Short Term Paperwork

Let’s learn to love our paperwork, or at least love how we feel when it’s been processed! Learning to love paperwork means creating good habits which can lead to a more carefree lifestyle.

What is short term paper?

  • It is paper that can eventually be discarded – hopefully sooner rather than later.
  • It often has an expiration date – think permission slips, invitations, monthly bills, etc.
  • It can often be found elsewhere if necessary.
  • It requires a response or an action, which is why it’s sitting around to begin with.
  • It can eventually be discarded, shredded or processed.
  • It may become long term once processed.
  • Often contains a request for your money, authorization or time.
  • It is relentless and unless you develop a system for dealing with this onslaught, you will be overwhelmed.

Minimizing the arrival of short term paperwork.

Paper arrives in our homes via the mail, via other people and via ourselves and there are ways to manage each of these. When sorting incoming mail, stand next to the recycle bin and immediately throw away junk. If you pick up your mail at the post office, even better. Sort it there and only bring home what’s important. You can turn off some of the incoming junk mail. (Stay tuned for our next article in this series to learn a variety of ways to reduce unwanted, incoming mail.) Make sure everyone in the household knows where to place papers that come into the home and think twice before bringing in any paper. Can you document it by taking a photo or locate it elsewhere when needed? Staying on top of incoming paper can reduce stress and the amount of time needed when you take on the task of processing it.

Managing/storing short term papers – temporarily!

Paper which does enter the home must be addressed on a regular basis, at minimum once per week. Of course some papers require immediate attention, but most of it can be stacked or filed. Let it go longer than a week and you are going to have trouble like missed appointments and deadlines, late fees, etc. Pick a day of the week for addressing paperwork and stick to it!

As you may recall, in Part One of this series we discussed stackers vs. filers. A system for dealing with short term paperwork is necessary and is going to look different for these two groups.

We’ll start with Stackers

As the title implies, stackers have stacks of paper on some surfaces of their homes. They may be very organized and know what is contained in each stack. This system is ok as long as the surfaces are not needed for other items and the contents are not forgotten. If paperwork is processed in a timely manner, the stacks don’t get out of control. Unless stackers have an inordinate amount of paper coming in or a tiny house, processing the paper once a week should keep the piles on surfaces from getting out of control. This is assuming, of course, that long term paperwork has been filed away. Remember, you don’t keep the large roasting pan used once per year on your countertop so don’t let long term paper that you will rarely if ever look at again clutter your precious surface space.

To filers, it looks messy and disorganized but knowing where everything is, brings peace of mind to stackers because they can see it. An upgrade to stacks of paper could be open containers, such as attractive baskets or inbox/outbox desktop filers. One can still see the paper but it is a bit more contained. This would be a good compromise when a stacker and filer share the same space.

Next let’s discuss Filers

Filers will usually appear organized. Everything is put away and out of sight. This is great as long as one knows where everything is and how to find it.

Problems arise when paper is stored away without categorizing it or having a timely system for processing it. There really is no need to file short term papers away for very long. Once it’s processed, it either turns into long term paper which is rare, or it should be tossed or shredded. Again, a minimum of once a week with immediate attention to urgent papers is what is required to keep ahead of the barrage.

Processing short term papers

Accumulated paper requires action which couldn’t be completed or a decision which couldn’t be made when the paper first came into the house.

Set aside a weekly time to make the decisions and complete the actions. This time should overlap business hours if possible, so that all actions (phone calls, follow ups, etc.) can be completed. The last thing you want is to have more incomplete paperwork when you’ve taken the time to process the pile. When you complete the action the paper can be tossed, shredded, or filed. Try to look at it once or at least take steps which move it in the right direction.

Should it be tossed or stored?

First ask yourself, will you need it in the future? If not, shred it or toss it. If yes, then it gets filed into your long term system. Can it be easily located and retrieved elsewhere, such as on the web? If yes, it can be shredded or tossed. Do you prefer hard copies or digital? Think about what would be the easiest way for YOU to retrieve something? If you won’t be able to maintain a password retrieval system or have slow internet access, consider sticking with hard copies. If you are comfortable with technology, electronic cloud storage is a lifesaver!

Many of us are resistant to dealing with paperwork because it seems we can never get it all finished. That is the reality so a change in our expectation of “finishing” this task may be needed. Sorry, but it will never be completely done! Keeping “on top of it” is the main goal!

In our next segment we will be discussing the organizational benefits and options of Digital Paperwork.

Contact us at info@idealorganizers for all of your organizing needs.