January 24, 2019

A simple paper sorting and processing system


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Part 3 of Taming your File Monster is all about a simple paper sorting and processing system. 

For the past two weeks we explored together how to tame the file monster in 2019. It’s still the perfect time to start because one of my principles is, create a system first and put the new papers through the system before you ever start working on your backlog.

And because the start of a new year is the perfect time to start a new system and deal with the new files only, I dedicated January as the “Tame Your File Monster” month.

We covered already the following: 

The biggest mistake you can make when decluttering papers and files 

which is: Don’t start sorting and decluttering your papers before you have a system in place, and most importantly, put the newest papers through this system first. Read again why here


Organize and file papers with a simply filing system

To effectively organize and file papers you need to create a temporary and a permanent home for them and then file them by their type. This saves time and reduces chaos and frustration. You can read the entire post here

Now that we know what mistake(s) to avoid and we have set up the skeleton of our filing system, we are ready to set up our

Paper Processing and Filing System

and we can start processing the papers that entered our life most recently. 

Again, I urge you to start very small and simple, the chances are so much better that you are going to stick with it, than if you start with 50 steps to do daily, that’s too overwhelming.

The most simple way to process papers is like this:

  • When papers enter your life, you put them into the Inbox (temporary home)
  • At least once a week you empty the inbox and sort the papers by category (to do, to file, to pay etc)
  • Then you do something with the papers (you pay the bills, you review the contract, you enter it into your bookkeeping system)
  • When done you file the files you want and need to keep and you get rid of the rest (recycle, shred)

It’s really that simple but the reason why most people don’t do it is, in my opinion, because they procrastinate to do these steps until the inbox is so overflown that it is a really daunting task.

They never get into a routine, but that's what you want, a routine. Why? Because if it’s a routine it becomes automatic one day and also you know exactly what to do, you don't need to try to remember what to do. 

People tend to procrastinate if they are not sure or clear on what to do. 

A routine takes that guess work out of it The first and second time you process your papers it might feel all new, but soon you are used to it and you do it quickly and efficiently. 

Advantages of processing files regularly 

Get into a flow

Because you are processing the files regularly these papers are in a flow, the task of tackling them doesn't feel as heavy as if you had to process a whole month’s worth of papers or even a longer period.

I speak from many years of experience here. I have clients that only bring me their papers once a year to do their books for the taxes. It’s a completely different energy to pull out those papers and process them compared to papers that are 1 week old or one month old.

There is a certain smell to older papers, and a certain down-ward pulling energy as well. By waiting too long before you process your papers you make your life unnecessarily harder than it has to be.

It doesn't take as long

It often takes longer to process older papers too because it has been months and a lot has happened since. You might have to really dig into your memory to remember what it was all about (especially if you didn't make a note on them and just left them piled up). 

Most people that have a lot of paper clutter complain that it takes too much time to process papers, but what they don't realize is that it takes easy twice as long, if not longer, to process a backlog than to process current papers on a regular basis. This alone should convince you to start processing your papers once a week, but I have a third reason: 

You will feel more in control of your life

The third reason why it's better to process your papers on a regular basis is that you have your affairs better under control.

You don’t miss any deadlines, you don’t pay bills late, you leave yourself room for contemplation and action. You will feel more in control this way compared to doing everything at the last second or even doing it late.

How to get into this weekly routine

Starting something new always needs a little more effort, here are some tips that can help you stay on track in the beginning

Get the right Inbox

It helps to have a big enough Inbox that can hold your amount of a week’s worth of papers but also small enough that the box is full after about a week, reminding you to process your papers.

Schedule it every week at the same day and time

Another tip is to have a set time once a week when you do it, this could be at the end of the week, on a Friday or Saturday, or you could process last weeks paper first thing Monday morning.

Declutter while you file

This is a little bonus tip, every time you file your papers after processing them, take an extra 2-3 minutes and look through that binder, or hanging file, or box and check if you find a paper that you don’t need anymore and can purge.

This is “decluttering on the go”, it takes only a little extra time but it helps keeping your files current and up-to-date without really any extra effort.

This concludes this 3-part series on how to Tame your File Monster. Let me know in the comments below if these tips helped you and what your biggest take-away is. 

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