Do you struggle with how to organize, store and retrieve paper and other forms of information? If so, you are not alone. I believe that paper and other forms of information are some of the most difficult items to organize. Why? Because there are countless ways for you to organize and store this information.
It’s not just about organizing the information that is important; equally important is the ability to ‘retrieve’ the information when you need it. Think about it. Why do you leave papers and other information lying around or spread across horizontal surfaces? Because you might tell me that it’s easier to find this way or because you can put your hands on the information faster.
In my experience, I will often disagree that it’s easier or quicker to find this way – especially when we are talking about large quantities of paperwork. Over the years, I’ve had clients tell me that they know exactly where everything is when I am working with them, only to have it backfire later when I ask about a specific document and they can’t put their hands on it. No, it wasn’t a trick question I was asking; typically it’s because they made a statement about something else, which lead me to ask the question and hence the mad scramble to find the document in question.
Last week alone I worked with six new paper management clients – and everyone was in the same boat, a boat that was sinking with massive volumes of paperwork, individuals completely overwhelmed at the thought of how to begin the process and what to do with all of the information. The commonality among all of the clients is that close to 90% of the information (paper, files, journals, articles, magazines, information printed from the Internet, bills, company memos, and more) was no longer needed. Bins and bins of recycling and shredding were eliminated and along the way….some signs of renewed hope that you CAN file the most important items and STILL be able to retrieve this information at a later date.
I know what you’re thinking….paper and other forms of information are painful to organize, boring and time-consuming. You’re right – it’s not the most exciting activity; but the rewards of being able to put your hands on information when needed and not recreate it, finish a project by a deadline and keeping your boss happy, or not paying late fees on bills are just some of the benefits you will enjoy.
Before you dive in, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Paper and information that MUST be kept typically is because it is either for financial or legal reasons. It doesn’t mean that you need to keep ALL of it however. There are guidelines you can refer to such as Publication 552 (Record Keeping for Individuals) from the IRS that will be a big help.
Here are some financial and legal questions to ask yourself
Is there a tax-related or legal reason to keep it?
Am I legally required to keep it?
Does it belong to me?
What will it cost to keep, store, and maintain?
Does it take more time and effort to manage than it is worth?
Will this help make or save money?
2. There is a category of paperwork or information that I refer to as “Vital Records” which are documents that would be time-consuming and difficult, if not impossible to get your hands on again. These are items such as passports, work visas, immigration papers, birth certificates, transcripts, marriage certificates, POA’s, a will, and many more; but you get the idea. These are items that need to be kept in a safe and secure location; such as a fireproof box or a safety deposit box. However, be aware that not all of these documents should be stored in a safety deposit box because of who has access and the hours that you are available to access documents in case of an emergency.
Items that should not be placed in a safe deposit box
Anything you would need in an emergency
Living Will / Medical Directives
Funeral or burial instructions – in case you need them over the weekend
Power of Attorney Originals
Passports – in case you need to take a sudden trip outside the country
3. You will most likely encounter what I call “memorabilia” items – these could be pictures, letters, cards, tickets to special events, wedding announcements, and even receipts! Yes – I once had a client that kept all of her receipts from traveling because they reminded her of vacations she had enjoyed –even it was just a receipt for an ice-cream cone. While these items are discretionary and don’t need to be kept (even ‘those’ receipts), these are often the items we cherish the most – yet most don’t make the time to organize them in such a way that they can honor and enjoy these special moments.
Do I have anything else that reminds me of this (event, person, or time)?
Do I love it?
Am I honoring and enjoying it?
Where did it come from/who gave it to me?
Am I keeping it because someone gave it to me and I'll feel guilty if I get rid of it?
Does it make me happy?
Does it make me unhappy to see it?
The first step in the process is to “Make the Time” for this project. As all of my clients said to me last week, it wasn’t as hard they thought – once they had set aside the time and we determined a place to start. Sometimes knowing where to start and how to go about the project is the most difficult. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed. Just pick up a stack of paper and for 20 minutes, sort through it and determine what you must keep and/or want to keep. The key is to make quick decisions and be realistic. Set aside the papers and/or information you are keeping – that is what you will organize in the near future into your new systems. I bet you’ll be surprised at what you end up keeping and need to organize and store for future retrieval.
May your paper chaos soon be eliminated!
P.S. If you get stuck and you need some help getting started, give us a call – we’d be glad to help. While we are based in the greater Seattle area, we travel all over the country as well as working with our clients remotely. 425.670.2551
P.S.S. Office Max is now offering shredding services for .59/pound. For about $3.25 you can shred 500 sheets of paper – which is equal to a ream of paper.
Public Seminar Schedule
February 27, 2011 - Eliminate Chaos: The 10-Step Process to Organize Your Home & Life
March 19, 2011 - Spring into Organization
March 26, 2011 - Eliminate the Chaos at Work: 10 Techniques to Increase Productivity
April 19, 2011 - Eliminate the Chaos at Work: 10 Techniques to Increase Productivity
May 5, 2011 - Eliminate the Chaos at Work: 10 Techniques to Increase Productivity
June 3, 2011 - Eliminate the Chaos at Work: 5 Techniques to Increase Productivity
August 16, 2011 - Eliminate the Chaos at Work: 5 Techniques to Increase Productivity
Click Here to learn more about each event and register - many events are FREE!
Announcing the Upcoming Release of my latest Book:
Eliminate the Chaos at Work: 25 Techniques to Increase Productivity
In just 30 Days, my latest book will make its debut!
Eliminate the Chaos at Workis divided into four sections:
Electronic Information Management
Organizing the Stuff
Each chapter contains practical, easy-to-implement advice you can use immediately in your office to increase your productivity and help you be more organized at work.
Each 'technique" is explained in detail and provides suggestions for implementation.
If this is a topic you are interested in, be sure to sign up for our new business newsletter where I will share these techniques over time. The first issue will be released in March.
You can also follow me on Twitter (@lauraleist) where I will be tweeting about business related organizing and productivity topics.
Announcing: The New Eliminate Chaos Business Newsletter
Beginning in March we will publish a quarterly electronic newsletter for those interested in business productivity topics and how to get organized at work.
This newsletter will coincide with the upcoming release of my new book:
Eliminate the Chaos at Work: 25 Techniques to Increase Productivity
If you receive this newsletter and would like to receive our new publication, click to update your profile. You will not automatically receive this publication unless you subscribe or update your profile.
In the News
A short and sweet article published in the Boston Metro on "Getting Organized" with tips to:
"I worked with Erin, one of the specialists who works with the Chronically Disorganized (hoarders). In a word, she was fantastic. In four 4-hour sessions, she helped me go through and box up (keep, donate, trash) almost everything that was stacked up in my kitchen, dining room, office, and bonus room. Erin arrived promptly. We went over what I wanted to accomplish that day, then we got to work. She was focused, calm, non-judgmental, and tireless. She faced very dirty circumstances and didn't bat an eyelash. She never once caused me a moment of anxiety; the relief that I felt when we were done was amazing. And Laura Leist, who is the owner of Eliminate Chaos, was lovely. She returned my calls promptly, was kind and understanding, and offered me some options. I would hire this company again in a heartbeat. But right now I'm too busy enjoying all the free space in my house!"
A great way to try us out and get some organizing done at the same time! For a limited time, we are offering an amazing NEW client organizing special. If you are not an existing client this is a great way for us show you how we can eliminate your chaos.