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Organize Your Desk: Mail and More

Organize Your Desk: Mail and More

In this post, we’re going to discuss how to organize mail, and some ideas for dealing with paperwork.

Incoming mail

Developing the habit of sorting and acting on incoming mail immediately dramatically reduces the amount of work it takes to manage your paperwork. Be brutal with the advertising that comes to your home. Unless you’re actually going to use something, not just think you might, recycle it immediately. Set aside a short time every day to manage your incoming mail. Depending on the volume of mail, you may want to take action on the incoming mail each day, or set aside some time each week to manage anything that has come up. Do not skip a day. Do not let it pile up again! It will become easier and easier to stay on top of it.

Clear your desk between projects

Clearing your desk between projects allows you to focus on each project without distractions. This applies both in real life and on your digital desktop. As you are coming up to the end of the time that you’ve allocated to complete a task, give yourself a minute or two to clear any paperwork and close any windows on your computer that are related to that task so you can move on with clear space for the next task.

Project Paperwork

Store paperwork related to a particular project together. This applies to your digital notes as well as your actual paper notes. When you keep all the paperwork together for a particular project, it allows you to return to that project quickly and easily, without having to shuffle through paperwork to find the notes that you wrote last time you worked on it. Store papers in folders or in hanging files near your desk. Be sure to label the folders so that you can find the project again easily.

Complete, Complete, Complete!

Keep your focus on completing tasks so you can clear them out of your workspace and out of your mind regularly. Allowing tasks to linger creates a backlog that clutters up your thinking. When you complete tasks you can stop thinking about them. Letting them go out of your mind allows you to keep a clear mind as you move forward with the tasks at hand. The same applies to the paperwork associated with the tasks. Filing everything to do with that task allows you to keep your desk clear. This can be done digitally as well as in real life.

Managing paperwork is a continuous task, but if you keep on top of it you will find your desk a lot less overwhelming.

Ready to start? Check out our Virtual Organizing services.

Organize Your Desk: Common Traps and RAFTS

Organize Your Desk: Common Traps and RAFTS

Dr. Katherine Macey

Hello! I’m Dr. Katherine Macey with Organize to Excel and over the next four blog posts we’re going to explore how to organize your desk so you can be as productive as possible. We’ll be covering the following topics:

  • Behavioral strategies you can use at your desk
  • Tools and supplies you can use to make it easier to work at your desk
  • Where to position your printer and other office supplies
  • How to create a clear workspace so you can be as productive as possible

We’re going to create some clear space for you so that you can have a clear mind as you do your work. Fewer things cluttering your workspace allows you to focus more effectively. If you have extra items around your workspace, your brain has to work to ignore them.

We’re going to make sure that the things that you need often are handy, without cluttering up your space. Let’s organize your desk!


Some of the traps that people fall into are wanting everything at hand. It’s actually okay to have to get up from your desk to get things occasionally. It’s good for you to be moving and not stuck sitting at your desk the entire time.

Another trap people fall into is leaving incomplete projects sitting around. You’ll learn in upcoming posts how to set up a space where you can collect the incomplete projects so that they’re not cluttering your space.

A third trap people fall into is not clearing the paperwork at the end of a project. Endless drafts, scribbled notes, and supporting documents all lead to extra clutter that does not need to stay on your desk.

Keep these traps in mind as we discuss our first major topic: paperwork!


To help organize your desk, it is best to stay on top of your paperwork. You’ve seen executive’s offices without a paper in sight. Perhaps you know someone who is never behind on their paperwork. If you are not those people and you have a little to a lot of backed-up paperwork, you probably have some piles around. Typically these piles of paper include reminders of things you need to do, records that need to be scanned or filed, advertising and more. The piles make it look like you have a lot to do and it feels overwhelming. Usually when we go through people’s paperwork, less than a third of the paperwork actually represents actions that need to be taken.

When you’re drowning in paperwork, use RAFTS

We use this system when clearing someone’s desk:

Recycle any paperwork that you have scanned that doesn’t have personal information, like advertising, old post-it notes, etc.

Action items need your attention. They are a reminder of a bill to pay, a letter to write, a phone call to make and so on.

File items are items you may want to refer back to at a later date. Any statements, school records, policies, etc. I highly recommend getting electronic copies in the first place so you can skip the paper step.

Trash/Treasure might be memorabilia or that little thing you picked up that you’re not quite sure where it came from but you’re keeping in case it shows up as missing, but you’ve had it now for a couple of years…

Shred anything that has account numbers, social security numbers or other non-public information. It is not necessary to shred anything that has your name and address since that is a matter of public record and can be found anyway.

Once you have sorted your paperwork and shredded, recycled, filed and tossed everything in those categories, you will be left with your action items.

Store papers vertically

A long-time organizer friend describes papers as either lying down asleep or standing to attention waiting to take action. I like that analogy as it encourages you to complete actions associated with any paperwork. It also takes up less space on your desk. Utilizing file folder organizers keeps the folders vertical. File cabinets or file boxes are a very efficient way to store papers vertically, but I do recommend using hanging folders to store related categories together and keep the folders from sliding under each other. As much as possible, reduce the amount of paperwork you keep by scanning documents. And for goodness’ sake, don’t print anything that you don’t have to!

Develop a prioritization system

If you have a backlog of action items, it’s best to develop a prioritization system to manage them. Use a combination of due dates and level of importance to decide what to tackle first. Your system can be very simple (do the item in front first) or more complicated depending on the volume of paperwork you need to complete. Here are some ideas for your system in increasing complexity:

  • Do what’s in front first
  • 3 folder system – Folder #1 for hot/red/do now items, folder #2 for warm/orange/do soon items, folder #3 for cold/blue/do someday items
  • 8 folder system – time based. Decide which day of the week you will be doing which items and drop them into the corresponding day of the week. The 8th folder is for anything that is not being done this week.
  • Keep a running list, inventory style. A numbered concertina file is best for this with a list of which slot each action item is in.
  • Tickler file. A system of 43 folders, one for each day of the month and one for each month. Decide when you will be doing the action and drop it into the corresponding day/month. This requires diligent action be taken each day to complete the tasks allocated for that day.

The more complicated a system, the more time it will take to maintain it unless you stay on top of it.

I hope these tips help you organize your desk by managing paperwork effectively. Next time, we’ll discuss common types of paperwork and how to deal with them efficiently.

Ready to start? Check out our Virtual Organizing services.

7 Tips for Paper File Management

7 Tips for Paper File Management

Effective filing systems, whether they are paper or digital, are critical to a business’ success. Proper records facilitate business transactions and track the success or failure of the business.


Easy access to documents ensures employees can spend their time working on the projects at hand rather than looking for a piece of paper. Estimates of the time that the average employee spends looking for documents range between 2 and 8 hours per week (statistics gathered by the National Association of Professional Organizers) or 100 to 400 hours per year. 

Color coded paper filing drawer


We all know time = $, let’s look at the breakdown. According to Gartner Group, Coopers and Lybrabd, Ernst & Young, the average time to retrieve and refile a paper document is 10 minutes. An average of 3% of documents are lost or misfiled, and have to be recovered at a cost of $120 per document. This equates to a cost of $2,160 to $8,640 per year.

An effective paper filing system will reduce the amount of time people have to look for documents and reduce the number of documents that are lost or misfiled, therefore reducing cost. It’s a win-win-win.


Keys to effective paper filing systems:

  1. Label files clearly
  2. Have some order to the filing. You may use different types of systems for docent categories of files.
    1. Alphabetical – useful for client files
    2. Categorical – can separate different categories such as vendor files, client files, financial files, etc.
    3. Chronological – useful for financial files
    4. Frequency of use – can keep documents that are referred to frequently at the front of a file cabinet.
    5. Priority based – particularly useful for active projects.
  3. Create rules for where each type of document should be filled.
  4. Only have one home for each type of document.
  5. Create naming conventions for files that everyone uses.
  6. Have a system for quickly identifying where a document or file folder should be returned to if it is removed from the filing system. 
  7. Keep active files separate from files that need archiving.
Organize to Excel has been working with client files since 2007. We have experience setting up files for a range of small businesses as well as home based businesses and personal files. If you are a busy mom with more kid papers and family bills than you know what to do with, or a real estate agent with closing documents, licenses, and brochures piling up your office, we can help.
Paper: Identify the Problem (and solution!)

Paper: Identify the Problem (and solution!)

magazine holderIs paper a problem in your life?  Does it end up all over the house?  Are there piles on your desk? Let’s identify the problem and then look at some solutions.

First, the problem. Paper comes into your house or your office.  You have other things to attend to right away, so you drop your mail on the nearest horizontal surface on the way to your task. What happens is that over time, piles are distributed everywhere.  There is no semblance of order.  You don’t know what mail is oldest and which is newest.  Time sensitive mail, such as bills, are mixed in with junk mail.  There is no method to the madness.  You are overwhelmed with the clutter.

Contrast this with the ideal situation.  You bring your mail in and deal with it immediately, each day.  It doesn’t even reach a surface because it is dealt with immediately.  There are no piles, no overwhelming paper clutter. You can access any piece of information within 30 seconds.  Your bills and correspondence are up to date.

It is difficult to change our habits overnight, but there are steps we can take to move towards our ideal.

One of the first steps is to create a landing spot for your mail. It could be a tray, an attractive box, or my favorite, a magazine rack like this one from OfficeMax. I like the vertical sorters because they take up less horizontal space and they have limited space – so you are forced to sort your mail on a regular basis.
Another idea if you have several people in your home or office is to use a hanging wall organizer with a pocket for each person. Pendaflex has one like this.
There are many different ways to manage your mail. The first step is to contain it in one manageable place.
Paper: Identify the Problem (and solution!)

Three tips for organizing your office

istock_000016683409xsmall office organizedHere are three things that we see holding our clients back all the time and a tip to overcome those hurdles and help you get organized in your office

1. Get your paperwork under control. The number one thing that clients call us for is paper. Paper piles, mail, to-do lists, business cards, ideas for projects, and on and on! To clear a back log, FAR your paperwork and make 3 piles: File, Action, Recycle. File the things you need for reference, or you need to keep for the IRS or some other government department. Get tough with your action pile – if it’s something that might happen, someday, maybe, put it in the recycle pile and forget about it – you most likely would have forgotten about it anyway.

2. Focus on being productive. Being organized is a means to an end, not the end product. Be sure to make a short list of “must do” actions each day. Do those things first. The rest is gravy. I write my list on a sticky note so it can’t be too long and it get’s posted right in front of where I work to remind me to stay on task. I only ever have one sticky note that has my “must do’s”. Any other to-do’s are collected on a master list which can be referred to when making the “must do” list. I make my list at the end of my day so I can fully rest at night and not be thinking about all the things I need to do the next day while I’m trying to sleep. Keep a hot file of the paperwork associated with actions either by due date (tickler file), by type of activity (See David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”), by project, or by priority (immediate, soon, later, or whatever labels work for you.)

3. Know when and how you work the best. Schedule blocks of time to work on your most important tasks when you are at your peak performance. Notice your style of working. Are you able to sit and focus for long periods of time and getting up for supplies breaks your concentration? Are you the opposite? Do you need a break from sitting in one place to keep up the creative flow? Make your office fit what you need. Place supplies either in easy reach, or so that getting them is an excuse to move.

If you can make keeping your paperwork under control, focusing on your top priorities each day and making time to do your best work habitual, you will be amazed at what you accomplish.

Back-to-School De-Stress Solutions

Back-to-School De-Stress Solutions

stressed student

The time to go back to school is nearly on us again. This can be a stressful time, not only for the kids, especially if they are in a new school or changing classes, but also for you, the parents.

There are three common struggles that we find parents have to deal with: routine changes, necessary supplies and clothes that must be purchased and, once school starts, an inevitable paper deluge. Our advice is to prepare for what you can and forgive yourself for the rest. 

How can you prepare for all the schedule changes?

• Find out ahead of time what the schedules for after-school classes will be. Co-ordinate between the kids, and, if possible, put all the kids activities on the same days. This may make those days a little more hectic, but it will also give you some “time off” during the week too when your kids can just be kids and you can spend some time with them too.
• Work out transport options for the days when you do have after school activities. No one I know loves driving in traffic day in and day out. Consider carpooling with other parents to save both the environment and your sanity. If you’re kids are older, consider the bus or walking.
• Plan slow cooker meals or easy-to-prepare meals on the days you know you will be late home. 

How can you get all the supplies together?

• Remind yourself of the school’s dress code and check your budget before you go shopping for the new season. 
• Some schools will give you a list of stationery, art and other supplies before school starts, so put a “supplies shopping” time into your schedule now. If you will not get the list until school has started, put the shopping time date into your schedule in the first week of school.