6 Tips for Conquering Paper Clutter

6 Tips for Conquering Paper Clutter

Is your desk buried under a pile of paper? Do you waste minutes—even hours—looking for an important document? Are your drawers so stuffed with folders and files that you don’t have space for office tools, important contact numbers, or anything that you actually need?

Here are some tips on conquering desktop clutter, forever. These habits are short, simple, and easy to implement, and can help you create a simple filing system that actually works.

1. Build the urge to purge.

What is so hard about throwing away a piece of paper? We’re afraid we might need it (we don’t). We don’t have time to read it, so we say we’ll look at it later (we won’t). But if you file everything, you can’t find anything.

Try our one-minute file check. If you can’t even see your desk, or you can’t locate a document you do need in the next 60 seconds, grab the waste basket. It’s time to purge—for your sake. Your documents should help you, not hold you back. “But I don’t have time to clean!” you say. Well, compute all the time you wasted on shuffling file, and you’ll realize that you don’t have time to be cluttered either.

2. When to File it

Only file a document if it meets the following requirements:

a. You need it to justify a decision you have made (also known as the “Cover Your…Back” principle). For example: a supervisor’s instructions, a client’s revisions.

b. It explains company policy and procedures

c. It contains information with long-term relevance (e.g., year-end targets). Rule of thumb: if you can’t think of three situations that you may need to refer to this, throw it out.

d. It’s a commendation for a job well done.

3. When to Transfer it

Some information is so critical that it shouldn’t be on slips of paper. Organize it in one place so that you know where to look for it, and won’t accidentally throw it away. The rule of thumb is record the most important information where you’re more likely to look for it. Ex:

a. Transfer the names, positions, company, and contact numbers in company letterheads to your Rolodex.

b. Instead of filing a project calendar, write deadlines on your planner. As these secrets to creating a perfect planner say, keeping two time management records doesn’t make sense—you might miss something, or waste time comparing two documents.

c. Type it into the computer. You can actually configure your schedule on downloadable software or even your office e-mail system to remind you of important tasks the day before.

4. How to Act on it

Many people do the “paper shuffle,” and file because they’re too busy or distracted to really look at it. Set aside 20 minutes a day for paperwork (best time: after lunch, when you’re too sleepy to really work anyway).

After reading the paper, force yourself to write down your next steps/plan of action on a Post-It. Stick it on the document itself, so you don’t need to reread it. Give yourself one week to complete the task and throw the paper away.

5. When to Pass it on

If you head a department, you’ll be the conduit that receive memos and reports that are actually more relevant to your staff. Give the document and tell them to file it. If you need it, you can get it from them.

6. Set an Expiry Date

Label two folders This Week and This Month. This is where you keep documents that only have short-term relevance. Keep those folders in your in-tray, and prune them out every Friday.