Do you ever sit down at your desk buried in paper and say, “OK! Today’s the day – I’m going to clean up this mess?” You pick up the first piece of paper – and immediately think of any number of reasons why now is not a good time to deal with this particular piece of paper. You pick up the second piece. “No, I don’t think so…” And the third… And the fourth… And before you know it, the pile of papers that was on the left side of your desk is now on the right – and you’ve got to run to your next appointment!
If you can identify with that scenario, and you would like to change it, remember four simple words: Clutter is postponed decisions?. I learned that from clothes closets. You can’t find room for the dry cleaning because your closets are filled with things you never wear or use. Why? Maybe it’s because you haven’t decided whether you’re going to lose the ten pounds you need to lose to get into that smaller size, whether lapels are going to get wider, or whether you’ll ever play tennis again.
The same challenge awaits you in the office. If you’re having difficulty-managing paper, you’re not alone! Research shows that the average person spends 150 hours per year – almost one month – looking for lost information.
As a professional organizing consultant for over 20 years, I have spent thousands of hours helping people organize their homes and their offices – and I have good news. There are really only three decisions you can make about any piece of paper. To make it easy for you to remember, I call it the FAT system: File, Act, or Toss: (1) You can file it away in case you need it in the future. (2) You can take action on it – or give it to someone else to take action. (3) You can toss or recycle it.
Frequently when people get tired of a mess and decide to clean it up, they start with the old stuff. That can mean failure since new stuff keeps coming in faster than you can get rid of the old! As a result, you get discouraged and quit – without success. Instead, keep in mind that “Today’s mail is tomorrow’s pile”, so to be successful in cleaning up, start with today’s mail. Put it in your “In Basket” and don’t take out a piece of paper from it until you are ready to decide: File, Act, or Toss. If you’re not willing to toss or recycle it; ask yourself the question, “Is this ball in my court?” If the answer is “Yes, ” put the paper in your “Action Files” located near your desk. If the answer is “No, ” put the paper in your “Reference Files” in some less accessible space in case you or someone else needs it later.
© Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com