Managing your Paper Mountain or Going Paperless?

Paper MountainIn my last post I commit to the world to take on the “paperless challenge”, to rid my office, my home and my life of unnecessary paper.

Going Paperless is not something that was even in my radar a couple of years back and why you would want to do it other than to save the planet, I had no idea. But in recent years I have learnt the benefits of having a clutterfree environment for both productivity and possibly sanity too!

So here are my reasons why……


  1. To regain real estate, I live in a small house and would benefit from freeing up some shelving.
  2. To clear more clutter from my days, so that I can maximise the time and space available to me
  3. To get more organised; it’s easier to find a document electronically than in a folder somewhere
  4. To do my bit towards saving the planet, by insuring that my paper usage is not contributing to deforestation

The Big Hairy Elephant in the Room

Going Paperless is something I have been thinking about for a while, but fear of it turning out to be a mammoth task has kept me from committing up till now. I had read other blogs or books and while reading thought it was a great idea, but then to turn around and see the many folders of course materials I have collected over the years, I would conveniently forget about it for another while.

But maybe it’s not going to be so humongous, maybe it’s just like the modern day elephant, if you want to consume one of those you eat it chunk by chunk (as the saying goes). So if I approach my challenge in the same way, breaking it down into smaller chunks and tackling them one at a time, should do the trick.

So this is an article about going Paperless, No?

No, I started out writing this article thinking I would tell you how to go paperless, describing the process I am going to take. But then I decided it will be more useful for you if I write this article when I have actually completed the task, or at least when I’ve accomplished something. I still need to schedule time each week to tackle my intray, and I’m sure I will come across roadblocks and good tips along the way.

The other thing I realised was that up to a couple of weeks ago I still found the idea of going paperless daunting and most people probably feel overwhelmed when the idea crosses their minds. So then I thought; maybe by showing you how to tackle your existing paper clutter first, eliminating the paper that is unnecessary and holding on to the documents that need to be filed either manually or electronically, it should then be easier to get to Phase 2: Paperless Penelope or Pete.

Physical or Mental?

Going paperless is more that a physical challenge. There is a mental barrier to be broken down too, the instinct to write and read paper. Those of you who cannot resist to print out emails and electronic documents so that you can physically feel and see that the work has been completed. So maybe by tackling your existing paper and reducing the quantity of paper you possess will help you to first get a clearer picture of what needs to be done. Then you can decide what you want to transfer to electronic format, what you can avoid printing and what you can go to the dump.

For those of you who want to skip the paper organisation and go paperless I will tackle that in a couple of weeks when I have done my first batch of scanning and shredding. For now let’s get started getting that paper in order.

Phase 1: Become Master of Your Paper

You may be organised in work but find the bills and household paper lie around on a pile on your desk or ontop of the microwave or fridge. Or maybe your work desk looks like the national archives after a hurricane. Either way, paper can be dealt with in no time at all if you follow these four simple steps! Gather, Process, Organise and Do

1. Gather all your paper in the one place
So many people have little piles of paper around their desk, neat corners and straight edges with the appearance of organisation. Without knowing what the pile consists of or the quantity of work it holds will add to unconscious stress and a cluttered mind. Collect all the paper that is lying around and put it in one location. If you don’t already have one, buy a basket or tray for “In”. Anything that hasn’t been already dealt with goes into “In”

2. Process each piece of paper one by one.
Pick up a piece of paper and decide what needs to be done with it. You have three options File, Act or Bin (F.A.B).
Anything that needs to be filed can go in the filing tray or if it will take you less than 2 minutes to file (properly), file it. Anything that you know you won’t be needing again put it in recycling or shredding pile. Anything that is still actionable, work needs to be done or you need to make a further decision on it should go into your system.

3. Organising, putting the work into your system
Any task that can be done in less than 2 minutes, like making a phone call or sending a quick email, do it. Anything that will take more time needs to either go in your Calendar or in your task list. All tasks that are date or time specific should go into your calendar along with any tasks that are current priorities and need to get done in the next week. A task that will take more than 15 minutes should be scheduled to ensure it gets done. any task that isn’t date or time specific but you need to work on, such as ongoing project work goes into your task list.

4. Do
It’s no good getting all your work into your system and then not doing it, if a customer pulls you away from scheduled work you need to reschedule. Once a week you should review your system and see where you are. Scan the past week’s tasks and calendar items. If there are items scheduled for last week that didn’t get done, reschedule them. If you find there is a task that is being constantly pushed out, maybe it’s not as important as you thought or you may be avoiding it for some reason. So if you find you are regularly skipping a certain task you will need to stop and ask yourself why? Is it because it is a mammoth task? Then break it down into smaller chunks. If you are afraid of the outcome, list out all possible outcomes and ask yourself what is the worst that could happen. If it needs to get done stop procrastinating, find a time and commit to doing it next time.

After you add a task from a piece of paper to your system ask yourself if you need to keep the paper. Try and take the information from it and then shred it. If you need to hold onto it you will need to create an on desk current folder system. Get a desk file stand, some manilla folders and a labeller. Label the folder and place the document inside so that you have it close by when the time comes to do the task. In my current folders I have a folder “To Read” which contains any brochures, magazines, articles, reports etc that I want to read but aren’t priority. I stick this folder in my bag when I’m going on a train or a plane. I also have folders for work associates, kids, current projects. I find that I use these folders less and less as I have more and more electronic documents but I know for some working environments these folders can be very useful. Create a folder for all of your team, anything you need to discuss with them can go in the folder and can be brought to a meeting.

Please drop me a line if you have any questions about getting more organised with paper clutter. This is a simple system that works. If you intend to go paperless you can still follow the same system but instead of filing, scan into the PC Instead.

Other articles you may be interested in:

Simplicity, one of the secrets to success
3 Crucial Lessons to Get Stuff Done when Time is Scarce
How to Maintain the Flow when Motivation Fades

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