Keep Your Desk from Becoming One Big Inbox


I had a client once tell me that his desk was one big inbox and that he really didn’t have an outbox. Looking over his desk, he was pretty much right. Unless I was sitting there and sorting papers with him and having him trash, shred, and file, things just accumulated in piles.

Now I understand that people with ADHD characteristics panic when paper is filed or placed where they don’t see it. But the truth is that some of that paper has been there so long it has stuck to the desk or fallen behind the desk or is so buried that unless there is some trigger to dig for it, it is forgotten.

Every person has a different comfort zone for clutter and for filing but here are some suggestions:

  • When paper comes into the office, do a quick triage. What is obviously trash or needs shredding? What needs an action soon? What do you want to read and ponder? What ads do you wish to consider?
  • Take care of the trash and shredding right then.
  • Have a landing pad for items needing an action soon.
  • Have a basket for magazines or articles you want to read and ponder. When that basket gets full, acknowledge that you have more than you can handle and either set aside some time to read or dispose of some of the material.
  • Have a folder for ads or upcoming workshops or events that you are considering.
Now this has corralled most of the paper but still very little has really gone away.
Here comes the harder part:
  • Schedule a time to pay bills or check on bill pay. Then immediately file or get rid of paid bills.
  • Weekly, at a scheduled time, take care of any receipts or invoices that need entering or filing. If possible scan these items and get rid of the paper.
  • Take a couple of the items you want to read and ponder and either leaf through them at that time or remove them to another location to read later. After looking through them, dispose of them.
  • Schedule at least monthly a time to leaf through the ads and toss any that you know you don’t want or that have expired. Look over any upcoming offerings and see if some no longer appeal to you or have passed their due date and dispose of them.
While you may never get your desk completely clear of paper, do realize that paper has a purpose and when that purpose is complete the paper should go somewhere besides on your desk.

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