Creating Systems for Paperwork

How many of you have put in the work, gotten all of your files organized, yet find yourself right back with new piles of paper?

The biggest reason for this is that you never created a system for yourself to be able to organize and maintain the inflow of paper as it comes into your life. Start with today's mail!

Systems are a life saver on so many levels. In this post, I will be using ideas from David Allen’s Methodology and book Getting Things Done. I have studied so many different systems and David Allen’s GTD is widely popular and very comprehensive. In this post we look at a paper workflow for simplicity.

The key to reducing the frustration with papers in your life is a consistent system when the mail or paper comes into your life. You can easily utilize a paper filing system, your calendar, and a “To Do List" to get organized and maintain the system physically. Personally, I store most of my files digitally.

Today we will focus on opening your mail. When you bring your mail into your home you need a system to be proactive with the paper in the mail. It makes sense to have a small basket or holder to corral your mail for the short term, but, this gets out of hand when you deposit the mail on your desk or counter without a system to address it. NOTE: Before I even put my mail down…I go through it and quickly decide what I can trash, shred, or recycle. The remaining mail can go into the basket to take action on asap or my scan file.

Let’s look at David Allen’s Methodology to help you handle any paper that comes into your home or office. Ideally, you are taking action immediately on the paper that comes across your desk or into your home. The important take-away is to DECIDE if the paper is actionable or can be discarded.


SORT (DECIDE) get in the habit of being ruthless at the point that paper comes into your life….stop the piles right there. Initially trash, shred, or recycle what you can before the paper hits your desk or kitchen counter.

Part of the SORT is to DECIDE…is this piece of paper actionable?

Ok, you have decided to keep a piece of paper….what will you do with it? (Piles are not allowed as the end result). Looking at one piece of paper at a time….decide if you need to take any action on this piece of paper. ** if there is no action to be taken - trash, recycle, or shred it. (Seeing a pattern here?)

If you decided to take action on a piece of paper - then decide what that action will be:

Do you need to Do something yourself?

Do it now if the action takes less than two minutes.

Delegate it to someone? If you aren't the person to handle this who is?

If you need to delegate it to someone else, what is your system for that?

Go ahead and make an email or phone call and get it done.

Do you have a reminder system to follow up with that person?

Be sure to make a note to your self to follow up. (Evernote is an incredible application I use to send someone an email and be able to send a copy of the same email to myself in Evernote with a reminder to follow up with that person).

Defer (put it off for a time to do later)

If you have to defer it, how will you keep track of the item? Will you put it on a “To Do List,” a “Project list,” or a physical/digital calendar. Consider making files/folders to house the reminders and material needed for a project to manage these actionable things. Project files allow you to keep the items pertaining to that item together. A simple notebook where you jot down the notes related to this actionable item to be able to refer to them helps. You must have a way to set up a reminder to follow through. Stop right in the middle of the process …. and actually put the information on your “To Do List” or in your calendar. Again, I use Evernote to hold the information and send me a reminder as well as be able to share with others if needed.

SCAN or FILE papers you saved for reference or archive. Name your files so you can easily remember it when you want to retrieve the file. You can set up a small folder to hold things that need to be filed physically, just don't let it get out of hand and schedule a specific time weekly to file. When you scan a document it makes it so much easier to just share with others and eliminates steps of retrieving, copying, and sending the file.

As I mentioned, I use a Raven scanner to help me stay digitally organized. It is so easy. I scan everything into Evernote and it is saved right into a notebook of my choosing then I discard the paper receipt or file. If I don’t have time to scan it right then I do have a small folder I keep my “To Scan” items in and when I get a few minutes I scan the items all at once or small batches.

SHRED - Get in the habit of shredding any paper with important personal information, such as name, address, phone #, account numbers …etc..

Getting organized is only one step on your journey. Systems will help you create new habits that eliminate the piles, confusion, and lost documents. You save so much time and peace of mind with systems. Once you get in the habit of making a decision at the point you initially handle a piece of paper you will have so much less confusion and stress in your life.

**Personally, I have reduced my paper files considerably and save time using the Evernote application and a Raven Scanner to save all important papers digitally. The Fujitsu Scanner is also awesome and they have a very small portable scanner. ** I am not an affiliate for Evernote, Raven, or Fujitsu.

To recap: Sort your paper, decide if action is necessary, file or archive the document, and trust your system to keep you organized. (Always look for paper to trash, shred, or recycle first.) Don't try to get organized by going back and organizing all your older papers...start today with the paper coming into your home and get comfortable with your new system, tweak it as needed, then at sometime in the future you can tackle your old files. Most people never use 80% of the paper in their files.

Once you get in this habit will notice so much less tendency for paper piles! And retrieving a file is so much easier! Your hard efforts pay off with peace of mind and more time to have fun.

If you have questions or what to establish a system that suits you, drop me a message and let’s chat.

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