Free Your Space: Tackling paperwork

Here we are, knee deep in tax season and before the water rises above our wastes I thought I would offer a few words of encouragement for those of you who are still finding it hard to even glance at the first document, let alone entire piles of papers.

It’s not easy to manage paperwork when it’s scattered everywhere and you can’t find (or don’t even know) what you’re looking for. Well, put your safari hat on and take a deep breath – we’re going in!

Know what you’re dealing with

The first step is to know what you are up against. How would you classify your document situation?

  1. I have most of my papers in order. They are in some type of filing system and I just need to get them out and decide what I need for my taxes.
  2. I have a filing system but I didn’t really stick to it this year. I have piles of unsorted mail and paperwork that need to be addressed.
  3. I used a system in the past but haven’t in years. My paperwork is in piles all over the place.
  4. I do not file or sort anything and my house is a sea of paper. (Please send the Coast Guard).

Hunt & Gather

If you have categorized your situation as an A or B, look around your home and gather together to one area any paperwork that still needs to be processed. Sometimes paper lands someplace odd and remains there for so long that it’s not even noticed anymore. You are looking for things like papers that were laid down in the bedroom on a dresser or nightstand; batches of mail on the coffee table in the den; medical forms that may have gotten left in the bathroom. Have you forgotten about a pile of papers on the microwave? For C or D situations, you may have more than can be gathered together at once. In these cases, instead of trying to corral it all together, begin with a couple of the most recent piles so that current bills and notices don’t expire before you get around to them.

Quick Sort

With garbage, recycling and shredding bins close at hand, begin looking at your papers one by one. Sort them into “actionable” categories. For instance, with each paper, ask yourself what is the next step? Your answers will define your categories: i.e. File It, Make A Phone Call, Recycle, Add to Calendar, Shred, To Read, To Discuss with Spouse, Add to Computer, etc. When you come across something that has no certain action or final destination, ask yourself if you need to keep it at all. Make a quick decision and keep moving on. This part of the process is where speed is preferred. You are simply putting like things together. You may feel an urge to act right away upon some of the items you find, but try your best to resist. Addressing individual items now will only serve to sidetrack you from the big

Take Action

You’ve done your prep-work so now you’re ready to act. This step can work best if you use some sort of timer. You can use an egg timer, your cell phone alarm, or be more creative and use a music CD to work by - stopping when the CD is done. Next, select a category that you have pre-sorted and begin. Are there phone calls that need to be made in order to move forward? Is there anything that you need to put into your computer or calendar? Items to file? Stick with that activity for the amount of time you have set aside.

Try this four-step process for a feeling of control over all the information at hand and satisfaction as you watch your piles of paper quickly disappear.

* To contact Annette Reyman for organizing work, professional unpacking, productivity support, gift certificates or speaking engagements call 610-213-9559 or email her at Reyman is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO®) and President of its Greater Philadelphia Chapter. Visit her Web sites at and
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