Kate Swanson spent her working life as an office organiser and manager, specialising in bringing order to chaos!
We may have reduced the amount of paper we handle, but that hasn't made it any easier to juggle all the competing demands on our time. In fact it's more difficult, because "paperwork" arrives in so many different formats. However, if you want to organize your work, the golden rules still apply.
Golden Rules of Organizing Your Work
- Handle each piece of paper, email or phone message only once
- When you've done that, file it in a proper place.
- When it's completely finished with, bin it or archive it.
Of course, in real life, it's often difficult to achieve these goals. But just by trying to stick to the rules, you will make your life much easier.
Golden Rule: Handle Each Item Only Once
When you're busy, it's tempting to put a bill or whatever aside and say you'll "get to it later". The reality is, you're already looking at it, so you're already interrupted. It's going to be more time-efficient to do something with it, than close it or put it down.
I know, you're going to say, "but I have to go to the bank / get on the internet / go to the Post Office to pay this bill, and I can't do that right now." I understand that—but the idea is to go as far as you can towards that goal, even if it's only a tiny step.
Option 1—Take a Small Step Forward
Let's say you have to go to the Post Office to pay this bill. In that case, put the bill in your purse, so when you next go out shopping, you can't forget it. Or if you have to get on the internet, put the bill by the computer. You may have a filing tray for "things to do", or maybe you'll just put the bill on top of the keyboard, so you can't miss it next time you log on. If it's an email or message, move it to a "to do" folder or add a reminder.
If someone else has to do something with the document, it's definitely worth taking the few minutes to call or email that person immediately, no matter how busy you are. That means that while you are busy, the other person is already working on the problem—progress is being made.
What if You Don't Have a "Proper Place"
If you don't have a "proper place", then organize something now! You need a "proper place" for items you're finished with, and a proper place for items that you still have to action.
It may be as simple as a concertina file (a big cardboard file with several slots, either one for each letter of the alphabet, or with labels that you can decide yourself). Even if all you can manage is a cardboard box labelled "bills", another labelled "tax", make sure you have something.
You Don't Need to Keep Household Bills
Unless you are running a business from home and need to claim tax, you don't need to keep household bills forever. Electricity, gas, and phone bills can be thrown away as soon as you receive the next month's bill, and you can see they've received your payment. The only reason to keep utility bills is if you want to monitor usage, and many suppliers can now give you this information online or on request anyway.
If you think you may want to apply for a loan in the near future, then keep six months' bank statements, because the bank may charge to reprint them for you. Otherwise, once you have checked a statement and know it is correct, there's no value in keeping it, unless you need it for the taxman. The same may apply to pay slips - check your local tax regulations.
When you've finished with documents but need to keep them, the most economical method is envelopes.
Large envelopes take up much less space than cardboard folders or ring binders, so they are the most space-efficient way to store documents that you have to keep, but rarely need to look at. They're cheap, too! You can store your envelopes in an old suitcase or in a decorative storage box from your stationer.
When you have finished with a project of any kind, put everything in an envelope. Label the envelope with the subject and the date in nice big writing, in thick pen. An example might be applying for a mortgage - once you've done all the paperwork, you'll likely never look at the documents again, you'll just pay the installments. So put all the solicitors' letters and bank documents in an envelope and put it away in a safe place.
What About Taxes?
The same goes for tax. You do have to keep information on your annual tax for several years (check your local requirements), but you'll probably never look at them again unless you're audited. Put each year's tax in a separate envelope, label it and put them away.
If you follow this routine, you won't need a large amount of space to store your active documents, which will make it easier to keep tidy and to file new things.
Every year end, clean out all the documents that you won't need in the new year - either envelope them and put them away in storage, or bin them. Do the same for your computer.
Documents will be easier to file and to find, and your "active" filing won't take up much space.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on November 27, 2016:
Good tips. Thanks. For sure I am going to give the envelope one a try.
Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on November 25, 2016:
Very useful and smart tips for organising things either at home or office.
Thanks for sharing it.
Mary Wickison from Brazil on November 25, 2016:
I know all these things yet I don't do them. I often spend more time worrying about doing a task than it takes to complete it.
I also spend time looking for things which didn't get put back in their original place. My office space and kitchen are organized but the rest is absolute chaos.
Clearing clutter is my first step.
kbdressman from Harlem, New York on November 24, 2016:
I'll have to start one. My in-laws always had an accountant do my husband's taxes during his single days so he has no idea what he needs to keep, let alone where to keep it so we have it when we need it. A folder would make it much easier to keep things organized!
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on November 24, 2016:
I have a tax folder. If I get a document I may need at tax time, it goes straight into that folder. I don't try to put it in any order or keep it tidy, it's just all thrown in together. It does mean I have to sort through it at tax time, but at least I only have to look at that one folder.
kbdressman from Harlem, New York on November 24, 2016:
I definitely need to get better at not putting the menial tasks off " 'til later." Not only does it take more time to look at it twice, but you have it nagging at you in the mean time!
I also need to do better at organizing all the things I need to file my taxes as the year progresses so tax season isn't filled with guessing games, hoping I remembered everything and trying to find old records that may not have even been carefully preserved!
Thanks for the tips, Marisa! Definitely a helpful hub with great suggestions!