Read vs. Review

The key to preventing an accumulation of mail is to do a FAST sort into simple categories, as soon as it comes in. Two of those simple categories are READ and REVIEW. So what’s the difference?

“Read” is for items you need or want to take your time with. It’s really important that when you are sorting your daily mail, you don’t stop and read a magazine or letter.

To File Is To Find

It’s all too common to think of a file cabinet as a place to make paper go away. It’s not. It should be a safe place to store files where they can be FOUND reliably.

Don’t put things you want to make a point of acting on in your file drawer. They will be out of sight out of mind. Instead, they need to be out where they are more compelling.

My Case Against Paper Clips

This isn’t the first time I have attacked a familiar office convention. There was the accordion file, the spiral notebook, and the rubberband.Today, I take issue with the apparently harmless paper clip.

Let me start by saying I do use paper clips myself. I believe they have their place. It’s just that I find they are grossly over-used.

Hey, That’s Important!

To get organized the word “important” needs to be used carefully.

If “important” is used too much then there is no distinction and the most important stuff can get buried in the less important stuff. Put another way, if everything is important then nothing is important.

If “important” is used too little then important is seen as a small category unto itself.

Getting Your Papers in Shape

Are you flooded with paper in your home? BIG paper challenges require BIG steps. An easy way to be as aggressive with your paper flood as it is with you, is to start by sorting shapes.

The biggest deterrent to dealing with paper is making decisions. The vast majority of these decisions are easy, but we tend to tie them to the minority of difficult ones. The best approach, therefore, is to take the majority of easy decisions out of the way first. Here’s how.


The To-Do Box Promise

There is a time to sort-and-purge clutter and a time to act on your to-do’s. It’s counter-productive to mix the sorting with the acting.

To truly understand why these two things are incompatible, it is first important to recognize the difference between getting organized and staying organized. It’s not unlike the difference between cooking a meal and eating it. It just works better to eat a meal after it is fully cooked


Receipt Control

One of the most familiar items to go homeless in any work environment is the receipt. You may be frustrated with how messy they look everywhere, but the solution is never as easy as throwing them all out, because they DO matter. Not ALL of them matter, but without a clear plan, one tends to keep them all, just in case.


Paper Drain Or Paper Trap?

Would you say there is more of a paper drain or paper trap in your work environment? In other words, does paper circulate easily, like water down a drain, or does it accumulate, like water in a plugged sink?

If a sink is overflowing with water, we want the plumber to fix what is plugging up the drain IMMEDIATELY!


Nothing keeps me busier than paper management. Computer advocates once promised a “paperless society,” but in an age when we are printing out our emails, paper is here to stay for a while.

Before I can get to my best advice on paper management, however, I must first stop and have a conversation about SHREDDING. “Why bother?” You may ask. “Shouldn’t you just shred EVERYTHING to be on the safe side?”

Where Should I Put the Mail?

It’s a common question but it has an uncommon answer. Mail doesn’t go anywhere. That’s because it stops being mail the second it comes out of your mailbox.

Bills-to-pay need a home, material-to-read need a home, and statements-to-file need a home, but it’s a mistake to allow the daily collection to take up residence ANYWHERE.

17 Minute File Diet

A couple weeks ago in my May Tip of the Month I recommended transferring your old taxes, old statements, and old tax supporting material from your file cabinet to a more remote location. I said that it should only take 15-20 minutes if you had a user-friendly file system set up.

This weekend, I followed my own advise and I’m happy to report that I clocked in at just under 17 minutes.

May Tip of the Month

The most important annual organizing habit is to PURGE YOUR FILE CABINET AFTER TAX SEASON. You’ve accessed all the tax-supporting material you need for 2009 and yes, you will still want to keep it, but there’s no reason it needs to occupy the valuable real estate of your desk file drawer. Last year’s statements fall under what I call Sleeping Files, files you are keeping just-in-case. I recommend transferring these to 2 inch file jackets inside remote file cabinets or banker boxes (or plastic file boxes in a damp basement).

The End of the Mail Trail

When does mail stop being mail? The second it comes out of your mailbox. That stuff piled up on your dining table is not mail. It’s bills to pay, solicitations to toss, statements to file, magazines to read, and material to review. Each envelope contains paper that requires action. Because those actions are hidden inside those envelopes, one fears the worst, but expose them to the light of day and you realize that your necessary actions are either a. easy or b. unnecessary (for now).

Tickle Your Memory

Ever wonder what a “tickler file” is? It’s a collection of 43 labeled folders, 31 days and 12 months, that helps you organize time-sensitive documents. It has been around in various formats since the early 20th century, but has probably been most notably covered in David Allen’s 2001 classic, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity.

To me the most valuable message from Allen’s book was,

“Out Where I Can See It.”

“Out Where I Can See It” is an understandable need, but the problem is if everything is important, then nothing is important. If the front page of a newspaper appeared solid gray with unbroken text, you probably wouldn’t bother with it. It’s too overwhelming. Not only would it take time to prioritize the most important articles, it would take time just to see them!

Files In A Bind

If your shelves are overrun with binders and they’re busting at the seams it may be time to rethink your use of binders. Binders have their place, but like so many things, they will serve you better if used within limits. Here’s how: