paper trail

The #1 problem I see when working with clients is an overabundance of paper and no efficient way to handle it. It usually stems from not wanting to pitch something you might “need” later or thinking you’ll just put in a pile “for now”—a bill, a receipt, a magazine, a business document, a child’s drawing. Here’s what you truly need: a system for keeping what matters and pitching the rest.

Allison’s Paper Trail Tips

Do it right here, right now. Time management expert David Allen is a big proponent of the “Do It Now!” rule. For any task that takes two minutes or less, he advocates doing it right away to dramatically cut down on the time it would ultimately take. This is a great lesson for reducing paper piles! Try following the one-and-done rule by handling each piece of paper the first time you touch it. Your options? Trash, recycle, shred, file or review.

Lights, camera, take action! Use a vertical paper sorter to house the papers you need to act on. (Avoid flat inboxes — they are too often breeding grounds for piles!) Divide the sorter into three categories: 1) Today: urgent papers that must be handled right away; 2) This Week: important papers that should be dealt with soon; 3) Someday: non-urgent papers you want to read or review. For the “Someday” folder, be sure to go through it every month and purge what you don’t need. If you haven’t gotten around to it in a month, chances are you can get rid of it!

Take note. Ahhh, notebooks – so useful, yet so easy to hoard! For keeping track of to-dos and other notes, I suggest keeping one small spiral-bound notebook that you can keep with you at all times. You can also go the paperless route by using a cloud-based app that provides easy access to your to-do list across your devices (smartphone, tablet or computer).

Allison’s Must-Have Trailblazers:

Paper Shredder—make life easier with a high-quality paper shredder! Store it near the place you review your mail so that you can swiftly shred any docs containing personal info.

Portable File Box—on-the-go organization that’s great for those who don’t have a dedicated workspace.

Desktop File—say goodbye to piles and hello to streamlining, thanks to this upright file box. Perfect for a dedicated workspace.

Customizable Notebook—corral your to-do list and make it your own by removing pages and adding dividers/pockets as needed.

Time Timer—wonderful for whittling down the time it takes to go through the mail and pay bills. Things tend to go more quickly when you’re on the clock! 

Handy Hint: I couldn’t just pick one this month! After all, there are so many great apps.

  • Purge the paper and adopt a virtual filing cabinet like Evernote.
  • Delegate your scanning to the folks at Shoeboxed! Once you sign up, they’ll send you pre-addressed envelopes. Send them back with all of the papers you want scanned, and they’ll do the rest—from putting them online to shredding the originals.
  • Got junk mail? Unleash Paper Karma on those USPS pests! Just take a picture of the sender’s address and Paper Karma will make sure you don’t get junk mail from it again.

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