In this post, we’re going to discuss how to organize mail, and some ideas for dealing with paperwork.
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.
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!
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.
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:
Label files clearly
Have some order to the filing. You may use different types of systems for docent categories of files.
Alphabetical – useful for client files
Categorical – can separate different categories such as vendor files, client files, financial files, etc.
Chronological – useful for financial files
Frequency of use – can keep documents that are referred to frequently at the front of a file cabinet.
Priority based – particularly useful for active projects.
Create rules for where each type of document should be filled.
Only have one home for each type of document.
Create naming conventions for files that everyone uses.
Have a system for quickly identifying where a document or file folder should be returned to if it is removed from the filing system.
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.
Is 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.
Here 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.
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.