What do you mean, you're not celebrating?
Let's just get this out of the way– Nobody really gets excited about paper. Even those of us who teach about managing paper and help others file things for a living really don't love it either. We just don't mind when it's someone else's paper. Our own papers are much less fun.
Why is that? Objectivity! If it's someone else's paperwork, you have no emotional attachments or guilt related to the decisions in the piles. You can breeze through them faster.
We talk about how all clutter ultimately is delayed decisions and actions. Paper is a very concentrated dose of this– each pile of stacked thin sheets is compactly and efficiently holding potentially hundreds of delayed decisions and actions in a small 8.5 x 11" space.
When going through your own paperwork and mail, try to step back from it mentally and concentrate on these three questions to help you get through the piles faster:
1. What is this? What does this paper want from me? I have had years of practice refining this skill… scanning the paper to quickly figure out the bottom line. You can learn this too! Look for the first question or sentence in the letter; anything that is bolded, underlined, highlighted, large, or red; and the last sentences in the letter. Look for catch words and phrases like "Pay by," "Due Date," "Return by," "Statement Enclosed," or any actual dates on the page.
2. Does this paper fall into the category of Action, Reference, or Trash? (Just remember A.R.T.) Once you've figured out what the paper is and what it wants from you, you can decide if you want to take action on it, keep it in your files, or shred/recycle it. If it requires action, keep it separated from the papers that you're simply keeping for reference. This is half the battle, my friends. Don't mix the two together.
3. If this person or company knocked on my door or called me on the phone, would I spend time talking with them? For all of the catalogs and junk mail sales pitches directed your way, pretend that you are a super-busy executive who has time for only the things that matter most. Try to quickly bottom-line what they're selling and whether you are remotely interested, and don't fall for the trap of essentially "going out shopping" in the middle of the day by leisurely browsing through catalogs. Save the catalogs for a time when you really want to shop and put them together in a reading basket. Don't let them distract you from sorting all the way through the pile.
See if these questions will help you make the piles disappear more quickly! It leaves you more time to celebrate occasions like National Organize Your Files Week, which I plan to celebrate like author Katherine Mansfield, who said, "Tidied all my papers. Tore up and ruthlessly destroyed much. This is always a great satisfaction." Next post: dealing with the actual files already in your cabinet. Share your favorite paper tips in the comments!
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