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

Paper, Paper, Everywhere!

Paper, paper everywhere! Where does it all come from? How do we make it go away?

We all dream of having that clutter free office and clutter free desk. But somehow that dream often eludes us.

Where does this paper come from? As I look around my office, I see a presentation I am working on, some notes on a potential client, a client folder from a client I worked with today, an itinerary I printed on a trip I am taking this summer, a report from my Feng Shui consultant, information on an event I may want to see this weekend, and my calendar. I have just recently disposed of today’s mail. At other times I have had coupons from a store that sells office supplies, a receipt to enter into QuickBooks, a card to send to a client, a magazine, and menu ideas. Paper continually invades my space.

Fortunately, I do have a plan in place. I have action files and project bins nearby that will allow me to clear my desk before I leave it this evening. The presentation notes and the Feng Shui notes will go into project bins that are held in my cabinet. The itinerary for my trip will to into my pending folder. My notes on the potential client will go into my call folder. My today’s client folder will go into my desk drawer file of current clients. This evening I will discuss the event with my husband and we will decide if we are going to attend. If we decide to attend, the event will be noted on my calendar and then the information will go into my pending file. If we decide not to go, the information will go into the recycling bin. The calendar lives on my file cabinet next to my desk.

Those coupons I was talking about went into my purse. My receipts went into a labeled envelope after being recorded. The card was addressed and laid out on the landing pad to go out in the mail the next day. The magazine was dropped into the magazine holder in the living room. The menu ideas went into a folder in the kitchen.

Yeah! No visible papers in my office. The point of this is that, yes, paper continually comes into my office zone but I do have a plan. Daily maintenance is very important if I don’t want to feel overrun by paper. Clearing the paper and thinking you are done is foolish. That’s sort of like washing the dishes and thinking you are done with that task. It all needs to be done again the next day. But, it’s all in having a plan and a schedule.

For more information on handling paper, come to Diane Quintana and my presentation on From Paper Piles to Files on February 14 (9:30 am) at Finders Keepers (2753 East College Ave., Decatur, GA 30030).

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer


Finacial Organization: Keeping Records Up To Date and Organized

April is Financial Literacy Month. Part of being financially literate is learning more about what you need to do to improve your financial state.

Step one is to organize your finances.

  • Keep a folder or basket for all your current bills and receipts.
  • Reconcile your bank and credit card statements monthly.
  • Keep a folder for all your tax information for the year.
  • Keep a folder for your recent copy of your credit report and your credit score.
  • Somewhere – in a folder or on your computer – have a list of all of your accounts. On this list also have your account numbers, online IDs, and passwords.
  • Have a list of all retirement accounts, investments, and life insurance policies.
  • Let someone know where your will, living will, and durable power of attorney documents are located.
  • Have a budget where you track your finances – either in a ledger, an excel sheet on your computer, or with a personal finance software program.

Step two is to set up a good filing system.

  • Have a desktop filing system for current items like bills/receipts.
  • Set up a hanging file system for other financial records.

Receipts that need to be kept for tax purposes
Paid bills that need to be kept for tax purpose
Bank statements
Insurance documents
Pay stubs
Medical costs
Car finances
Mortgage information
Social security and retirement information
Financial investments

Step three is organizing your time.

  • Set a regular time to pay bills.
  • Take time to reconcile bank statements when they come in.
  • Take time to reconcile credit card bills when they come in.
  • Set times to clear out financial clutter

Grocery receipts once recorded in budget
Old paycheck stubs once the tax year has been completed
Utility bills after recording unless you keep for one year to compare cost
Credit card receipts after reconciliation unless it is a big ticket item you wish to

Taking time to organize your finances may seem overwhelming, but if you take the time now it will save you time and stress down the road.

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

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