Do you have a place in your house that always seems to accumulate papers? A spot where no matter how many times you clear it off, an endless stream of papers appears?
For me, it is the kitchen counter. The multiple piles of paper and mail are sorted. But a system breakdown occurs when the papers need to be processed and filed at my desk in the back room. It should be easy right, just carrying papers to my desk? But for some reason, I can’t move past the sorting step on the kitchen counter.
Each time I need a clear space, the papers are stacked and the sorted piles disappear into a massive mess. Then the sorting cycle repeats again and again before any action is ever taken to work through the paper. Needless to say, frustration with my inefficiency has set in. It’s time to act!
To be more efficient with my paperwork, the mail center needs to be moved to the kitchen counter instead of trying to retrain myself to process the mail in the back of the house. No matter how elaborate or well intentioned a filing system is, if it’s not in a space where you will use it, it won’t help you stay on top of your paper trail.
A small file box right next to where I go through the papers. This box contains my Action Files. Now I have an easy, fast and actually fun system to use! Plus by placing it where I naturally sort paper, it’s sure to be used more often.
Action Files, also called Working Files, are simply files that are current and need action taken on them weekly or biweekly. They differ from reference files typically housed in filing cabinets, which contain more permanent records (bills already paid, pay-stubs, insurance info, other archives, etc).
There are 7 Action Files, along with the trash and recycling bin of course, right where I sort any incoming papers. Since this file system is used daily it allows me to quickly sort papers and find them when needed, which is the main goal of any filing system.
Action Files will reflect your own personal needs, but here is a snapshot of my categories and what I use them for.
reference papers to file the large filing drawer. These are items that do not need action but instead are papers I need to keep for archival purposes. I file these weekly.
Weekly grocery ads and recipes, I clean this out weekly when I do my meal planning. As soon as I get the grocery ad, on Monday, I store it in this file until I make my shopping list.
Any bill to be paid goes in here. I pay them twice a month, once at the beginning of the month and once at the end. After the bills are paid they immediately get moved to the “To File” folder to be stored in our reference files in case any discrepancy comes up throughout the year or they are needed at tax time.
For any paper I need to reference in the short-term or that might need a follow-up. If you are familiar with the book Getting Things Done, it could also be called an Incubation file. This file is temporary storage. Examples are an event I am thinking about attending, a form that I need to gather more information to fill out or an issue waiting for someone’s response on. It is also used for any miscellaneous paperwork regarding my to-do list, like a prescription to drop off or a dry cleaning slip.
Having a permanent spot for these items makes it easy to delegate errands. If my husband is going to pick up the dry cleaning he knows right where to look and doesn’t have to wait until I get home to get the slip out of my purse. In order for this file not to become a vortex of unfinished tasks, I write pending file to-do list on a post-it inside the cover of the hanging file. I schedule time to take care of lingering papers every Wednesday.
I clean this out once a month while going over the budget. I make sure everything is recorded properly and then toss most receipts and file any that need to be kept long-term such as records for home improvement, major purchases, etc. A separate folder for Christmas receipts or business receipts can be added.
Either papers for my husband to take into the office or papers to discuss with him.
This is divided into store coupons and coupons books from the newspaper. I use a version of Whole Insert File System found on This Frugal Life. To find out even more, check out these detailed coupon basics at Frugal Fun and Fortune and becentsable.
To get started taking action, schedule in time to go through today’s papers. Keep it simple and record a few action categories as you sort, types of paper you would typically handle on a day to day basis. Ask yourself “What is the next action to take for this item?” Make a place for 4-5 categories in containers or file folders. Some example categories are-Read, Discuss, Data Entry, Current Project
There are so many options for stylish little file boxes to have out on your counter or wherever you process incoming papers. Check out this basket file box.
If you prefer to go through paper on you favorite chair or couch, there are filing drawers that double as a side table. I found this one at Target.
Once paper piles are replaced with a workable filing system for incoming papers, I have found I am able to consistently maintain control and relax knowing there is not a time-sensitive task hidden in a pile somewhere. Your mind clears to focus on more important things.
Next steps for the:
(To find out were you stand take this fun quiz.)
Schedule in time to go through today’s papers. Keep it simple and only start with the papers from today’s mail so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. Record a few action categories of paper you typically handle on a day to day basis. Ask yourself “What is the next action to take for this item?” Make a place for 4-5 categories in either containers or file folders. Example categories-Read, Discuss, Data Entry, Current Project
Do some maintenance on your system by editing your current file categories. Ask yourself, “Are there files I am not using? Are there papers that still have no home?” Schedule time every week to maintain your system.
Examine your motion efficiency. Do you have one too many steps in your paperwork system? Are you handling a single paper too often before an action is taken? Check out the book, Taming the Paper Tiger, to really get your files in tip top shape.
It is possible for a self-proclaimed “Clutter Bug” to create action files! Read about all the details a reader sent in of tackling her paper clutter here.
How do you manage your daily incoming papers? Are you lost under piles of paper now? Have you felt the zen-like calm that comes when your kitchen counters are clear? Pick a small step, set the timer for 15 minutes and dive in!