The Secrets to Managing Paperwork
Mel Carruthers is the owner of southern Scotland based business, More Organised
Mel, a former military museum curator, loves filing,‘rainbowtising’ and getting things done. Since paperwork/memory-keeping is one of her specialisms, she is brilliantly placed to share this guest blog.
Despite living in the digital age, we are swamped with more paper than ever before;
- bills to pay,
- forms to sign,
- newsletters to read,
- junk mail that we didn’t even want in the first place!
What to do with it all?
1. Take stock of the papers that come into your home and stop as much as you can.
- Cut it out: There is no single agency to stop junk mail in the UK. Instead, register with the Mail Preference Service, the Fundraising Preference Service and the Direct Marketing Association’s “Your Choice” scheme. You can also fill in the Royal Mail’s “Door to Door” opt-out form.
- Go digital: Banks and utility providers are going digital – you can too. You’ll be helping to save the planet as well as your sanity (as long as you keep on top of your email).
- Limit magazine purchases: Be honest – how many of those magazines do you really read cover to cover? Give yourself a magazine detox and commit to buying only one title (or none at all!) for a period of time. Join your local library instead, or save money with a digital subscription.
- Pin it! Many clients tell me they need to keep magazine cuttings for inspiration. Are they really inspiring you, piled up in the corner of the sitting room? Go digital here too and use a platform like Pinterest to save, share and plan your projects.
2. Now that you have reduced your incoming papers, what next? What happens to your paperwork when it comes into the house?
- You need a landing area: Defining a place to put all your paperwork will help you tidy up your home, as well as organise your “personal admin”. Choose one place to put incoming papers, and make sure everyone in the household joins in.
- Bin it! Shred, recycle or bin envelopes, unnecessary flyers and catalogues as soon as they arrive.
- Deal or defer: If it can be dealt with it in 2 minutes or less, do it now! School permission slips, event RSVPs, paying a quick bill – get them out of the way and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
3. Schedule some time.
By now you should be left with only the paperwork that needs action or filing, all stacked neatly in your landing area. This is where the magic happens! Grab yourself a cup of tea and schedule some “me time” (well, some “me and my admin time”) and let’s get that paperwork sorted! Schedule a regular appointment with your paperwork. For me, it’s an hour each Sunday evening, but whatever works for you. The key is to ring-fence that time and make it a habit.
- Get it done! Work swiftly through your paperwork pile, trying to only touch each piece of paper once. Pop appointments in your diary, pay outstanding bills, write birthday cards and complete any other actions needed in order to have an organised week ahead.
- Needed later? If a piece of paper needs to be deferred to another week, pop it back in the landing area (and for extra organising points, add it to your to-do list so you don’t forget!)
Finally, it’s time to file. Filing works best if you have all your files together in one place, be it a filing cabinet, concertina file or cute boxes.
- Be ruthless: Only file what you really need. A much-used statistic states that we only retrieve 20% of what is filed. So birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies and school reports are a definite “Yes!”. Bank statements, utility bills and anything else that can be found online, not so much. And definitely no need to file the insurance documents to the car you sold in 1993, however much you loved it!
- Categorise: Label each folder with the main categories to keep it simple (you can always use sub-folders to divide it up if you need to).
And that’s how to keep your paperwork under control! Keep it together, and schedule a regular time each week to tackle it. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “For every minute spent organising, an hour is earned”. That’s another 59 minutes for you to be doing what makes you happy (and not frantically searching for an overdue bill!).
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