Paper Management – Part 2: Filing

Try as hard as we can, we still have a lot of paper that comes into our homes. If we are not vigilant, it will stack up on our counters, tables, and desks. It will add clutter to our lives and it will be hard to locate that paper that is really important (I know my license renewal paperwork is in here somewhere).

Having a filing system that works for you is key to keeping those surfaces uncluttered.

Let’s start with setting up a desktop file or action file. This is where most of the current incoming paperwork will probably land. The concept is that each piece of paper requires an action even if that action is to throw it away. Your files will separate the papers by the action required. Likely file headings are “Pay”, ” Do”, “Contact”, “Pending”, “Read”, “File”. If you take all the paper that has come in this week, it should fit into one of the files. If you have something that does not fit there, ask yourself, “What action is necessary?” and make another file. The goal is to have no loose papers on any surfaces.

I usually have some projects that I am working on. These generate paper. I may have some research, a draft, or ideas for the projects. I use project bins for this type of paper. When I am working on the project, I pull out the papers and when my work time is up, I shove the papers back into the bin.

Then there are the other bits of paper we might keep that don’t fit into those categories. I have envelopes in my desk drawer for receipts that I need to keep. I have a plastic envelope in the kitchen for coupons I might use. I have files near my cookbooks for recipes. I have some files in my bookcase for special interests (exercise, landscaping, decorating).

I also have a file where I store all house related information, warranties and directions for household items.

Then we also have our permanent basic files where we keep our financial papers, insurance, vital records, medical records, tax papers and so forth. We also have files for archival papers such as past taxes, old property sales, bank records, military paperwork, or any paperwork that we rarely need but want to find if necessary. Archival files do not have to be handy so they can be stored in the top of a closet or in the attic.

The purpose of files is to keep paper from stacking up and to make paperwork easy to locate. The files should be easy to use and access or you will find yourself laying down that paper “just for now.”

Start with your most recent stacks of paper and see what action you need to take. Soon you will enjoy your open spaces on your surfaces that were once covered in paper.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Open Your Mail!

Seriously, open your mail daily or at least weekly. Unless the envelope reads “to current resident” or it is very obviously an ad or plea for money, just open the envelope and see what is inside.

As a professional organizer I often help people sort paper and old mail. Here are some of the things I have come across.

  • Old checks made out to the recipient – sometimes 10 years old
  • A final notice that since the speeding ticket had not been paid (notices in other envelopes not yet opened) the drivers license was being revoked – right before a big road trip for this lady
  • Gift cards
  • Thanks for donations form letters – that should have gone into the tax folder
  • The car title of a car that the owner now wants to sell but she had not opened this envelope and gone to DMV to get the title in her name
  • Credit cards and debit cards that have not been activated – sometime duplicates sent at different times
  • Invitations to parties or weddings long past
  • Recall notices on items purchased
  • Warnings that utilities will be turned off if the bill is not paid because old bill were not opened and paid
Have a landing pad for all incoming mail. Immediately discard ads, catalogs, and any other obvious trash. Then open that mail daily or weekly and put the items in action folders or baskets so that all bills are in one place, all items to file are in one place, and any mail that requires an other action is in one place. Schedule a time at least once a week to deal with it. Then the mail never becomes overwhelming or fearful.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Keep That Paper Movin, Movin Right Along

I had one client tell me his office was one big inbox with no outbox in sight. What can we do to keep that paper moving right along off our desk and out of our office?

Try this:

  • Immediately trash/recycle/put in the shred box what you don’t need. Be ruthless here. If you don’t need more clothes why keep the clothes catalogue at all? If a fancy vacation is not possible now, let the travel ads go. More will come later.
  • Put all magazines and catalogues you are keeping in a basket near where you read. Each month clear out the old editions.
  • All papers you are now keeping need an action. Look at the papers (and yes, that does mean opening the mail) and decide what the first action you must take with this paper. Paper piles build up because you defer making those decisions on the spot.
  • Have action or desktop files ready. This is where those papers will go. You might label your files “read”, “pay”, “file”, “pending”, or “contact”. What labels you use will depend on what actions are needed for your kept paper.
  • Know that the action referred to in “action files” is not the action of putting the paper into the files. You must schedule a time to pay bills, make contacts, and follow up on pending items. Schedule times on your calendar to do the actions that the folders demand. Don’t let papers live there forever.
  • Set up idea folders for those papers you keep that are not immediate actions. These folders might include vacation ideas, landscaping ideas, party or home decorating ideas. At least yearly, clear out what no longer interests you. These folders can live in a file drawer or in a bookcase.
  • Use project bins. These bins are for ongoing projects. Designate a bin for each big project (daughter’s wedding, book you’re writing, etc.). Some smaller projects can go into folders within a bin. I use folders for business ideas or organizations I attend. With project bins, you pull out what you need to work on and as soon as you are finished or out of time, you sweep it all back into the bin.
  • Keep regular files (insurance, car, medical) updated and cleared out.
Following these habits will help you maintain a clear desk, office, and a clearer mind. Getting rid of the piles of paper that scream “Look at me!” when you are working on something else keeps you from getting distracted.
Let’s keep that paper movin’ right along and to its final destination. No more paper pile ups!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Clear the Clutter from Your Desk – Action Files

It seems no matter how hard you try, papers pile up all over your desk. There are the notes to make phone calls, the folder to complete, the bills to enter or pay, the report to complete, the papers waiting to be filed, etc., etc., etc.

So what’s a poor working girl (or guy) going to do?

Set up desktop or action files.

What files do I need to set up?

That depends on what is lurking on your desk.

  • If you have bills to pay or enter, set up a file that says “pay” or “enter.”
  • If you have papers to file, set up a file that says “file.”
  • If you have notes about making calls, set up a file that says “call.”
  • If you have unfinished projects lying about, set up a file saying “projects.”

You get the idea. The file names entirely depend on what is lurking on your desk. If you can’t keep stuff from accumulating during the day, at least make a clean sweep of your desk at the end of the day so that you start each fresh new day with a clean desk.

The only tricky part is to remember to visit those folders on a regularly scheduled basis and take care of the tasks that you have tucked away.

Now you will not dread coming into your office in the mornings with your cup of coffee to start your day!

For more help on organizing your papers, come to the free workshop, From Paper Piles to Files, at Finders Keepers on Feb. 1 at 9:30.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Quick! Where Does It Go?

It seems no matter how hard you try, your desk continually gets covered over by piles of paper. You riffle through the stack looking for a telephone number or an article you want to read for inspiration for a blog. As you churn your papers, you find a bill that is overdue and you panic. Why does this keep happening?

Most clutter on the desk comes from not making immediate decisions on what to do with the paper or from not having any system that lets you put paper away but still not forget about it or lose it (that old out of sight/out of mind thing).

So, here is where Action Files come into play. Pick up a piece of paper and ask yourself the question, “What is the first action I need to do with this paper?” Your response to that question determines where the paper is stored.

That phone number on your desk? You need to either call that person soon or record that number so you can find it later to contact them. Your answer to the question, “What is the first action?” will tell you whether to drop it into the “Call” folder or the “Enter” folder.

The article you copied to read for inspiration? If you have not yet really read it, it should go into the “Read” folder. If you have read it and know you want to write a blog using some of the ideas, it should land in the “Write” folder.

That bill will most likely to into the “Pay” folder unless you have a question concerning the bill. If you have a question, the bill will go into the “Call” folder.

The notes from the potential client you chatted with would go into the “Waiting For” folder. The new insurance policy print-out will go into the “File” folder while the reminder to get your oil changed will go into the “Do” folder. What files you put into your Action Files entirely depends on the types of paper that end up on your desk. So go ahead and quickly squirrel away every scrap from your desk into one of your Action Files.

Now sit back and enjoy your clean desk. All that empty space to inspire you and all that clear area on which to work. Wonderful!

But, wait! These are called Action Files but putting the paper into the files is NOT THE ACTION. These files MUST have a SCHEDULED time where you actually look into the files and complete those actions. Some files should be looked into daily, others weekly, and some like “File” on a less regular basis. Again, this is personal according to what are in your files but put those maintenance dates on your calendar and HONOR them.

OK. Now, relax and smile. Enjoy your clean desk!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Maintain a Paper Flow Not a Pile Up


Everyone has piles on their work area at some time or other. Usually with me they appear when I have not been managing my time well.

Here are some tips to make your paper flow across your desk without piling up.

  1. Spend as little time as possible getting that paper off your desk. Paper piles up because you defer making decision about it. Instead of laying down the paper and leaving it there, take a few moments right away and ask, “What is the first action I must do with this paper?”
  2. Immediately trash/recycle/put in the shred box what you do not need.
  3. Put the other papers in action files according to that first action. You might label the files “Read”, “Pay”, “File”, “Pending”, or “Contact”.
  4. Record dates on your calendar. Record dates of obligations to others and dates you plan to do the action that the folders demand. Record when you are going to pay those bills, make those calls, or read those papers.
  5. Put all magazines and catalogues in a basket near where you read. Every month clear out old editions.
  6. Use project bins. If you have ongoing projects, designate a bin for each project or a folder within a bin. After you are through working on a project for the day, sweep it back into that bin.

Following these habits will help you maintain a clear desk and a clearer mind. Getting rid of the piles of paper that scream “Look at me!” when you are working on something else can be very distracting.

Let’s keep the paper flowing right across the desk and on to its final destination. No more pile ups!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

To Do Lists

How do you manage your “to do” lists? As I work with clients, I see a variety of tactics. Some people have the little sticky notes or small pieces of paper everywhere. Others have small lists on envelopes, sheets of paper, or anything handy. Some keep running lists in a notebook. Others have lists on their computer or in their calendars. Almost everyone, including me, gets frustrated by the unfinished lists of “to dos.”

I often help clients set up action files or folders for their “to do” items. Usually we set up two folders. One folder is for items that need to be done very soon and the other one is for items that are not so urgent. The trick is that sometimes there are important but not urgent items in the second folder that work their way up to “need to be done very soon” and if that second folder is not monitored, those items can get missed. I am beginning to think there should also be a third folder for things we would like to do someday but that aren’t essential at this time. This could be more like a bucket list or dream folder.

For immediate “to do” items, I encourage putting only one item on an index card or paper. Place these papers in the folder. Don’t worry about forgetting the tasks when the papers go into the folder because the crucial time related tasks should also be recorded on your calendar. When a task is complete, that paper can be thrown away. ( I have one client who likes to put her completed tasks in a jar to see how much she has accomplished!) For the other folder, you can either use single sheets or lists.

Now, here is the important part. Once a week – it could be a Friday or Sunday evening or a Monday morning, items should be taken from that “Urgent To Do” folder and actually scheduled on the calendar. I recommend scheduling 3 major things each day to accomplish that will move you toward your goals. When I try for more than 3 big things, I usually run into grief from over-scheduling. At least once a week, the secondary “To Do” folder should be reviewed. Schedule a couple of items from this folder if possible. At the very least, be aware of what is lurking in that folder.

Now, everyday when you open your calendar, the important “to dos” are already scheduled. At the end of the day, if an item did not get done, because life can intervene with the best of schedules, go ahead and move it to another slot immediately.

No system is perfect. I’d love to hear what has worked for you.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Quick! Where does it go?

Sit back and look at your desk top. If it looks like mine right now, it would make a good “before” picture.
Daily it is a struggle to conquer the mess on the desk. Yes, I know and I preach that every task should be put away before the next one begins. And often I do just that but sometimes ……..
I have action files and that does make clearing my desk much easier when it does look like this.
Everyone’s action files or desktop files may have different headings.
Mine are:

  • Read
  • File
  • Do
  • Pay
  • Pending/waiting for
  • Communicate

I also have my calendar, project bins, a trash can, and a shred box in the office.
So here is what I recommend. Set the timer for 15 minutes and put every thing on your desk in the correct spot.
Now what might be on a desk and where might it go? Always think what will be the first action with that item.

note scribbled on post-it note from last phone call – File
client info about rescheduling a session- calendar then File
notice of a committee meeting – calendar then Project bin
info on upcoming workshop I might want to attend – calendar then Pending
invite to a party – calendar then Pending
ideas for newsletter – File
phone message from auto shop – Communicate
notes from potential clients – Pending
ideas for an article – Do
solicitation for a new credit card – Shred
credit card bill – Pay
article pulled from magazine – Read
CD from workshop – Read (yeah I know, but that’s where I would put it)

Now the desk is clear. I don’t need to worry about forgetting items because all crucial items were first posted in my calendar.

What is on your desk? Quick! Where does it go?

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Managing Your Communication Center

Every home should have a communication center. Where you put the communication center is determined by your household. I am single and have my communication center in my office. Many of my clients have the communication center in the kitchen or an eating area just off the kitchen. I’ve also seen the center in a large mudroom where the family enters the home, a den, and a nook in the living room.
Communication centers are the place where all incoming and outgoing family information is processed. A large calendar is crucial to a family center. When my boys were at home, the rule was, “If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening!” Soccer games and practices, Scout meetings, parent/teacher conferences, church activities, doctor appointments, social events, etc. should be recorded for the whole family to see. A bulletin board for regular scheduled events and rosters is also a big help. Invitations can also be tacked to the board.
The communication center is also a good place for action folders. Action folders are simply folders that are labeled with the action needed for the papers inside the folder. Examples of the labels are: “To do”, “To call”, “To file”, “To read”, and “Waiting for.” If you have children who often need forms filled out or permission slips signed you could also have a “To sign” folder.
Mail would also be brought to the communication center. Whoever brings in the mail might drop it into a landing basket where the adult in charge would sort it and either trash, shred, recycle or place the mail into the correct action folder.
The communication center should be user friendly for the whole family so there is no more “Mom, where is my permission slip?” or “Did you see the map for the next scout event?”.
Maintenance is of key importance to keep the communication center functioning as it should. files should be looked into on a regular basis. Items on the bulletin board should be updated frequently.
I would love to hear some examples of how you use your communication center.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Action files

In several previous blogs I have referred to Action Files – also known as desktop files. These files serve the purpose of keeping your desktop clear.
Almost every piece of paper that ends up on your desk needs an action. It is up to you to determine that action and either carry out the action (if it takes less than 2 min.) or place the paper in an easily found place so that the action can be done at a later date.
Let’s look at how that works. Pick up the first piece of paper in your stack on your desk or counter. 1. Identify the paper – bill 2. Identify the action – pay it 3. Identify where you are now going to place the paper – in the “To Pay” folder.
Repeat with the next piece of paper. 1. Identify the paper – copy of your recent car insurance 2. Identify the action – file 3. Identify where you are now going to place the paper – “To File” folder. Repeat with another paper. 1. Identify the paper – flyer from the High Museum 2. Identify the action – decide if you want to go to that exhibit 3. Identify where you are going to place the paper – “Pending” folder.
Slips of paper with addresses, phone numbers, or email addresses can go into the “To Contact” file. Short articles or items you have printed can go into the “To Read” file. Notes to yourself reminding you to go to the library, pick up dry-cleaning, or clean out the gutter can go in the “To Do” file.
It is important to decide what the first action will be. That car insurance paper might first have gone into the “To Read” folder and after being read into the “To File” folder.
Ads, catalogs, and magazines you don’t intend to read should go directly into the trash and not even get laid down. Magazines and catalogs you want to read will go into a basket or bin near where you sit to read. Some items will need to be shredded and these can go into a basket or have a file of their own.
Let’s talk about that “Pending” file where I put the flyer from the High Museum. I had not yet made up my mind on that exhibit. I wanted to look it up and call a friend to see if they could go with me. I put the date I plan to do this in my calendar and then dropped the information into my file. I use this file for items that I have not yet decided on and I also use it for events I have decided on but the event has not yet happened. I’ll drop theater tickets in here after putting the date of the program on my calendar. I’ll place invitations in here after I have accepted the invitation and put the date in my calendar. I keep the invitation so that I can refresh my memory on the exact time, place, and what I need to bring.
Now once everything is neatly filed – don’t forget what is in those files. Here is where your calendar is your friend. Every “to do”, every “pending” should have an entry on the calendar committing to when you are going to do or make a decision on an event or task. All other folders should be looked into on a regular basis – so once a week, have on your calendar – check the “To____” folder.
Remember though, if you can do the task in under two minutes – just do it instead of filing it.
If you want more assistance with filing, email me and register for my workshop From Paper Piles to Files on January 29 at Eagle Eye Bookshop in Decatur.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer