Today, the average executive spends six weeks per year retrieving misplaced information. Disorganization is costing companies millions of dollars every year. Productivity experts tend to group people into two categories: pilers and filers. Which are you?

When filers get a piece of paper, they put it away––in a folder, in a binder, or in a drawer. When pilers get paper, they leave it out––on the desk, on a credenza, or on the floor. Sometimes it can look messy, which is why pilers tend to get a bad rep. But a healthy distribution of clutter actually can be good for creativity. For many people, those piles are a physical representation of what’s going on in their heads, a ment
al map of whatever they’re thinking about.

You may think that filers are the more organized of the two. Most people do. But are filers more productive? Not necessarily. Studies show that 80 percent of papers that are filed are never referenced again. And half of all filed materials are either duplicates or expired information.

What’s going on here? Here are some keys on how to get organized with your paper files so you can check out of your office each day.

File as it comes in
File as you go or once a day. If you are absolutely too busy, put items in the “To File” tray and file once a week. Hire someone to help you file!

Set daily priorities
Make forty-three files:  Thirty-one files (one for each day of the month), plus
Twelve files (one for each month of the year)
File papers into the day you will need them. No more harried moments looking for tickets or invitations at the last minute!

Label trays
Use stackable file trays (bins, boxes). Put each item in its labeled slot. Make eight file trays.

1. In tray
Use for:
Papers to review
Coupons and discount offers
Professional journals (one tray per title)    
Action: Current projects (or require frequent attention)
Reference: Less frequent use (if the office space is small, put in another room)
Fire safe: Legal documents, warranties (put each in a plastic sheet protector)

2. Out tray
Use for outgoing mail.

3. To file
Keep it out of reach, not where you sit.

4. To scan
Put papers here to store on your computer hard drive.

5. To recycle
Remember the three R’s––reduce, reuse, recycle. Follow these steps to keep paper out of landfills and reduce pollution.
Paper in an office really adds up! And, recycling can pay (e.g., electronics, such as phones, screen monitors, and computers).

6. To donate
Keep track of business write-offs for your taxes (e.g., furniture, donations, pro-bono work,  equipment).

7. To shred
Protect your identity and confidential data.

8. Trash!  Throw away materials immediately that are not eco-friendly, recyclable, or confidential directly into a trash can.

Use a file cabinet
Box-bottom file folders
Use these when you have a large amount of content for a file or multiple manila folders within a file. Don’t overstuff.

Tab-hanging file folders
Put these in the front of your hanging file folder. This position makes it easier to pull a file.

Product manuals and warranties
Put these in a three-ring binder or box. Use top-loaded plastic sheet protectors when possible.

Inventory or create a table of contents of what is in the binder or box.  Tape the table of contents or inventory list to the front of the binder or box, or use a binder with an insert cover page.

Retain files and keep updated
Cull your files regularly. Know when it is time to throw something out. No more haphazard decisions. Write a list of which files you want to keep for future reference.

Mark favorite websites
Organize favorite websites by category or project in your computer hard drive (like a filing system).

If 15 percent of all paper handled is lost and 40 percent of U.S. workers think paper is a waste of their time, what’s going on here? Systems in place to manage your flow of paper can reduce the frustration of finding what you need when you need it.  Another benefit is that you will have clarity of what information you really need.

Here are some keys to managing your paper flow and information management.

Clear your work space
Clear it. Sometimes, you just need a fresh start. A clean desk can clear your mind.

Sort the mail
Sort it when it arrives. Put it in its designated container: in tray, out tray, file, scan, recycle, donate, shred, trash.

Minimize paper volume
Keep it at a minimum. Continually ask yourself, “What will happen if I do not keep this?” When it is old enough, throw it away or recycle it.

Organize great offers
Organize to take advantage of them.
Toss them when they are past their offer deadlines.

Sort magazines and journals
Cancel the ones you never get around to reading.
Have a deadline for how long you keep them (e.g., six months, not more than a year).
If they are for research, box, label, and store them in another room.

Recycle your unread collection.

Sign up for “do not mail” lists
Feeling inundated with junk mail? Forty-four percent of mail goes to the landfill unopened, yet we still spend eight months of our lives dealing with it all. More than one hundred billion pieces of junk mail are delivered each year—that’s more than eight hundred pieces per household. In fact, junk mail in the United States accounts for one-third of all the mail delivered in the world. It’s not just cluttering our homes and wasting our time, junk mail also destroys our environment.

Register on the national databases to eliminate unwanted junk mail. Although it is not a 100 percent guarantee, your paper volume will significantly reduce (

Make a daily “to do” list
Use whatever method works for you.
Create one. Use it every day.
Using your computer saves paper.
Use it whenever feasible.
Keeping paper lists means constant rewriting.

Organize books
Keep frequently used materials at your desk (e.g., dictionary, trade magazines, and reference books).
Keep periodic references in your immediate work space.
Keep occasional reference materials in a second room.
Keep long-term references in storage (the back room).

Whether you’re a piler or a filer, my message is the same: unless you can see the status of all your projects at a glance, you’re probably not as productive as you think. And that means you’re working harder and longer than you need to. Studies show that 90 percent of office documents are merely shuffled from one pile to another. Ninety percent. What’s going on here?

When you have the right key, the right system, for managing your files, physical and electronic, and for getting control of your day, physical and emotional clutter disappears. And when it does, it becomes much easier to manage your time and energy.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment