Papers, Papers, Everywhere – But Not the One I Need!

papersFamilies are bombarded with papers and mail every day. It never really stops and at this time of the year, there is also the added burden of finding the papers necessary to prepare the taxes. So, how do you keep up with the papers, handle them and find the important ones when you need them? This newsletter offers several solutions based on your paper personality. Which of the three paper personalities are you?

The “pilers” are the ones that make piles of this and that but leave them in the busy zones of the home and so they get relocated and re-piled over and over. The kitchen table and counter are two of the most popular landing zones for the mail and incoming school papers. Problem is when the table or counter is needed the pile is moved to another spot, or several piles are combined. With this method, all the papers need to be looked at to find the one you need. Are you a “piler?”

The “collectors” have a spot for papers and put all papers whether important or unimportant in that place. It may be a desk, small table or the corner of a counter, but all papers are dropped there. To find a specific paper they need to go through the entire pile – but at least all the papers are in one place. Are you a “collector?”

The “filers” separate their papers and put them in different places depending on their function. Bills go in one place, action items in another, magazines in another etc. Based on what they are looking for they know where to look. The problem with this system is that although the papers are in their “spot” there is no designated time to take care of the papers, bills, or action items.

Whether you pile, collect or file your papers, you need to ask yourself if it is working for you. Can you find what you need quickly and easily? Do the action items get handled in a timely manner or do some things fall through the cracks? If you answered “no” to either question, keep reading to find three solutions to get those papers under control.

desktop-fileA Desktop File can serve as a command center and is easily adapted to suit individual needs. It is easy to carry, keeps all papers contained and has hanging file folders labeled to fit your family’s needs. Some typical file categories are: bills, action or to do, to file, project title, tax info, and/or family member names. For example, when the mail comes in, it is sorted into the bills and action folders. What is left is usually to read or junk mail. With folders for each family member you can keep important information handy. Sports schedules, class lists, current sizes, the information on the upcoming field trip, whatever you need to be able to access for your child, spouse or self all contained in one place.

A Family Notebook is a three ring binder outfitted with plastic dividers with pockets and page protector pockets designed for your family’s needs. Use the dividers to categorize things such as family members, dining, town information, sports schedules, etc. Put your favorite take out menus in page protectors, put your child’s sports practice schedule in a page protector, put that upcoming field trip information in the front pocket of the divider with your child’s name on it so it is easily accessible. This works well for school and town information and those sheets of information you have to hold onto for a season or a school year. This won’t handle all your papers though so I suggest using “in” boxes or bins for each family member and two extras bins; one for bills and one for the rest of the mail. In case you can’t sort through all the mail or incoming paper at that moment, place it all in one “in” box and it will stay contained until you have the time to deal with it.

There are also various types of Mail sorters that can be used for papers. Find one you like with enough slots or dividers for what you need. Label the dividers so that anyone can sort the mail into the right category. The main thing is to separate the bills and action items from the rest of the mail. Each family member can also have a slot for their important papers.

Remember to go through each of these systems weekly to pay the bills and handle the action items. Then there is the question of what to do with your child’s papers. Check out my blog for tips on handling the three types of papers your child brings home.

Keeping Your Child's Papers Under Control

Are you overwhelmed by your child’s papers? The younger they are it seems the more paper they bring home. Depending on the age of your children there are generally three types of children’s papers that come into the home.

LOOK AT: Their school papers that have been corrected and returned, notices

RETURN: The notices and/or items to be signed

KEEP for REFERENCE: The schedules you need to hang onto, contact list for scouts, CCD schedule, etc.

hanging-desk-free-organizerThe LOOK AT group: First you need to decide whether you want to hang it up for a few days, save for posterity or save for now and purge at the end of the term. For this type you can easily use an accordion folder, or a desktop file with fat hanging folders or a hanging file like the one shown. If your child is in middle school or above they should have their own desktop file or a hanging file and should periodically clean out their notebooks and put the papers in a labeled folder for each subject. This way they are all together when it comes time to study for the midterm exams or review for MCAS.

If you just can’t bear to part with some of your child’s art work then leave it displayed for a while and then store in a memory box. At the end of the school year you and your child can enjoy the time going through the papers and picking no more than 10-15 favorites to save.

in boxRETURN: Several clients I have use in/out boxes labeled for each family member. Each child is responsible for emptying their backpack of papers and putting any thing that mom or dad needs to see in their in box. Mom or dad then checks it each day and signs it and puts it in junior’s in box. Then when Junior is getting ready for tomorrow he has to put that signed paper into his backpack and place the backpack near the door.

KEEP for REFERENCE: Sports, Dance and Scout schedules should be entered into your planner and placed on the current month’s family calendar. It is also helpful for your child to enter it into their agenda as well. It helps them plan their long term projects better if they know when they have practice. If there are only a few schedules you may want to make a folder for your desktop file labeled schedules or put each child’s schedule in their folder.

Those Friday papers you get from school often have upcoming event dates. Those should be entered into your planner or electronic calendar as well. You can keep the paper until the event has taken place in a tickler file.

Group contact lists or the season schedule can also be kept in a binder using page protectors. I have created several Family notebooks that hold schedules, the recycle calendar, the library hours, favorite take out restaurant menus and other odds and ends that you need to hold onto but don’t know where to put them. Just make sure that each category is labeled and for a while you might want to put a reminder up that you saved such in such in the family notebook. Keep it easily accessible. You’ll be amazed at how much time it saves you.

If you struggle with your papers, then sign up on our website to receive this month’s Laine’s Logic Newsletter and read, “Paper, Paper Everywhere, but Not the One I Need!”

Get Organized Plan:Week 3 – Electronic “paper”

How to handle your electronic “paper” so you can find what you need quickly is the third in our series on handling the papers in our lives. We have set up a system to handle the incoming mail and papers (see blog dated January 12) and we have cleaned out our files (see January 19). Are you still with me? This week we are going to tackle our electronic “paper” and that includes documents, emails and Rss feeds.


First up is your email inbox. Stop and take a look at how many emails are in your inbox (23 now down from 154 for me). Many of them you have probably looked at, but maybe there are some that you still haven’t opened. If it were real paper mail would you leave the unopened mail in the mailbox? Of course not, so why are you leaving it in your inbox?


Just like in other organizing we can use Elizabeth Hagen’s acronym S.T.A.R.T. for our electronic paper too. If you have more than one email account you will need to follow the steps for each account. Once you have a manageable number which I would say should be 25 or less then you will know that nothing is slipping through the cracks.


No more postponed decisions, let’s get S.T.A.R.T.ed! We can combine the first two steps of sort and toss because it is easy to make those decisions at the same time.  First Sort your entire inbox by name (I use Outlook Express) and then you can see how many emails have come in from each source. You may not need to read many of them because you know what they are. Use the shift key as you highlight each email and then you can delete (Toss) a group at a time. If you see a large group you can use the shift and control key to highlight the first and last email and everything in between will be highlighted and then easily deleted. Next is Assign a home. The emails that you need to keep should not be kept in the actual inbox but in subfolders. Please remember that the Pareto rule applies here too. 80% of what we save we never look at again. Think carefully before saving. Create subfolders that make sense to you. I have a folder for each family member, close friends, genealogy information, etc. in my personal email account. My business email has many more subfolders. There is also a TO READ folder in each account. If you absolutely need to save the email then you can RESTRICT it to a container/folder by dragging and dropping it into the appropriate folder. Keep going through the entire list or set aside 15 minutes a day for a week to go through your inbox until you can get it down to just those that you need to take action on. You can also “flag” items to mark their importance. Try to deal with the email as it comes in. I know David Allen of the Getting Things Done system likes to keep his email inbox at zero. I am happy when all the emails fit on one screen and I don’t have to scroll down. Get to the point that makes you feel like you are in control and then periodically go through your inbox and folders and sort and toss to TAKE BACK CONTROL. (Don’t forget to delete the sent items folder if your program automatically saves a copy of each email you send.)


You can do this same process with your documents (Word, Excel, Publisher etc). Start with setting up subfolders in your My Documents folder (if you use Microsoft Office) that make sense to you. Save items with titles that are meaningful so you can quickly find what you are looking for and save them in the appropriate folder. Clean out those folders periodically as well. If you just save all your documents in the My Documents folder then you need to search through every document you ever saved looking for one specific one. That is much more time consuming. Make it easy on yourself. If you realize you have saved something in the wrong folder, then save another copy using the “save as” feature and delete the one in the wrong folder. I have over 50 subfolders but they have rather specific names so that I can quickly find the folder I am looking for (Blog, Correspondence, Household, Website, etc)


For you avid blog readers you may have subscribed to several RSS feeds (I use Google Reader) and are notified of new content on each. Sometimes this can get ahead of you and quickly mount up. Take time to clear these out too. Scheduling 20 minutes a week to go through and read the ones that interest you and mark “as read” the ones that don’t may help you keep it under control.


Last place I see clutter on a computer is on the desktop. How many of those icons do you really use? You can delete the shortcuts (those with the arrow on them) without deleting the programs they belong to. You can group the icons together in ways that are meaningful to you or set them up by frequency of use. All programs can be accessed from the start menu so ask yourself if it is really saving you time to hunt through fifty icons to find the one you want or is it easier to use the start menu? Isn’t it nice to see the wallpaper again? Good luck with this week’s organizing task as it may be a bit time consuming, but well worth it in the end. Let me know how you do by clicking on the Comments below.


Next Tackle and Tame Your Mountain of Paper Workshop is March 19, 2009 at 7pm at the Norwell Middle School Community Room. Register to attend…it’s FREE.



The Magic of Containers

Do you have mail and papers spread out all over your counters or in separate piles throughout your home or office? With the holidays fast approaching, here is a quick tip to save you time and make your home look “organized.” Ready?

Get a decorative container or basket large enough to hold all those papers and put them in it. There doesn’t that look better? By “containerizing” you are transforming several piles into one and:

·         you’ll know where to look when you need something (saving you time searching each pile)

·         your home or office space will look neater (reducing your stress)

·         you are able to quickly move the container to clear the counter (saving you energy and time)

·         others in the family know where to look (reducing the blame game and your stress level)

In general, containing papers holds them in place until you can deal with them. It takes less than five minutes and can make a big difference in how neat and organized your home looks. One warning though, do NOT put bills in this container! Bills should have a separate home and should never land in a pile (unless you like paying late fees).

Want to learn how to deal with this container of papers? Next “Tackle and Tame Your Mountain of Paper”  workshop is being held January 14, 2009 at the Norwell Middle School Community Room in Norwell, MA. It’s full of helpful tips and it’s FREE (but you must register to attend by sending your name and email or phone number to

As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.


Postponed Decisions Find New Life in Tickler Files

Do you have piles of papers cluttering your desk, table or countertops? Paper piles are often the result of postponed decisions. There are many reasons why you may put off a decision. Do you need more information and need to make a phone call or send an email? Or do you need to check your calendar, check with another person or just need time to think about it? Rather than making the decision do you set these papers aside “for now?” The more postponed decisions you have the higher your pile of papers becomes.


A Tickler File can serve as a holding place for those papers waiting for the next action or a decision that you are not ready to make right now. It can also be used to hold information for a date in the future. For example, tickets to the theater next month can wait silently in the tickler file until they are needed. Birthday cards, reminders, directions to that party, and other date specific items can be safely kept in a tickler file until needed. Want to place an online catalog order but don’t have time until the weekend? Then place the catalog in the tickler for Saturday and it will be there when you are ready.


The most common type of tickler file is made up of 43 pockets or file folders. The numbers 1-31 are used for the days of the month and the other 12 are used for the months of the year. The ready made ticklers work well when placed in a desktop file. This holds them upright and keeps things from slipping out of the open sides. If you prefer to set up your own you can rotate the file folders so the current day is in front and you can use a desk drawer or file box of your choosing.


The key here is that for the next 30 days you will need to remind yourself to look in the tickler file and to put things into the file. Connect the time you want to look in the tickler file to something else that is already a habit. Do you sit down with your second cup of coffee and plan your day? Then place the file near the coffee pot until it becomes a habit. If you use Outlook or a PDA then set a reminder. Then remember when new items show up that you will need in the future you can file them and forget them until they show up again. Remember the tickler can’t tickle your brain if you forget to use it or check it each day.


So if papers are taking over your life and you find yourself revisiting papers over and over again before making a decision then try using a tickler file. David Allen of Getting Things Done and Elizabeth Hagen of Fearless Organizing are just two of the many successful people advocating use of a tickler file system.  If you Google it, you will find over 89,000 entries with more information. Let me know how it works for you.