It’s easy to let paper pile up on your desk. Trust me - I couldn’t take a photo and use it in this blog post today. I’ve got some work to do myself! But I do have a system that works…so I know it won’t take too long to get control of my piles. So let’s get started - together.
Declutter Your Desktop:
Step #1. Start with purging the paperwork pile-up on the desktop. Even though papers from from every direction and multiple aspects of your life (Work, Personal, Kids, Pets, Family, Home Info, etc.), there are really only 3 categories of information: Action, Reference, and Archive.
Action. This includes paperwork that comes in, you need to do something with it, and then the paperwork passes someplace else (a file, back to the sender, etc.) Resist the urge to group the information by category (like “kids," “school," “work," “volunteer,” “pets".) Just take ALL of the items you need to deal with and put them into one “To Do” folder - invitations to respond to, bills to pay, etc. That way, you don’t have too many places to look when it comes time to tackle your personal admin items. Action papers should be put in a chic basket on the top of your desk so you don’t forget about them, and you can actually do something with them. Or you can use a standing file sorter with a file folder clearly labeled so you know not to dump junk mail in with the important papers.
Reference. Such papers you need to refer to every so often, but they do not need action. These can live in a file in your drawer, a closet - or somewhere accessible, but not on top of your desk.
Archive. Paperwork from taxes, memorabilia: items you want to keep but you rarely need to refer to them should live in a banker box or other storage bin farther away. Think about your desk as prime real estate. You don’t want old memorabilia hanging out in the high rent district.
Step#2: Clear off the top of your desk so it only contains what you use on a frequent basis. Is your 3-hole punch or stapler dusty? Do you have a printer taking up space on the top of your desk? In the "old days," those items saw a lot of use. Today, not so much. Move them off the top of your space. How many jars of pens and notepads clutter your desktop? you really only need…well, one at a time. If you respect your desk and it’s value, don’t let objects clutter it up that don’t get used. Find a home in a closet nearby.
Here are some items that should be on your desk:
your action basket
a landing place for you to drop mail, other items to go through
a reusable water bottle
a place to charge your devices
a pen and a pad.
Step #3: Create a Paper(less) Workflow, so you’ll have less paper to deal with over time. Your goal isn’t necessarily to have NO paper, your goal can be to have less paper so you can find what you need quickly. Just make sure you don’t trade a physical mess for a digital mess. Make sure you set up a digital structure that works for you, regardless of where your digital files live (on the cloud, on a hard drive, etc.)
Business Cards. Using your phone and Evernote, scan your business cards (Both sides if you’d like) and ditch the card itself. You can adjust Evernote’s settings to store the contact information in Evernote alone, or to populate the default address book on your phone/computer.
Receipts. Use your phone or a scanner to create digital images of your receipts. Store them in a cloud service - like Evernote, or NeatReceipts, or set up a custom management system in a program like Dropbox.com. Any way you do it, you can loose the paperwork once you have an electronic copy.
Other important paperwork. Car registration, insurance claims, prescriptions, copies of passports or drivers licenses, and more: scan, scan, scan. Use the cloud to your benefit.
* A word of caution about digital filing: “Back up your documents” is as important as “Wear sunscreen.” Don’t get caught without a trusted and reliable back-up service. Personally, I like Backblaze. Simple to use and not expensive.
Step #4: Maintain your system. You don’t need a perfect system - you just need to stick to it. Here’s a few steps to get you started in creating that system:
Determine a landing zone. (Where will you drop everything when you walk in the door - mail, keys, purse, kid backpacks, work bag, etc.)
Determine a processing place. (Where you will triage the mail and paperwork.)
Establish a physical place for what happens to paper/info when it enters your home or computer. (I like to call this a Home Command Center.)
Delete/toss as much paper/info as you can without opening it.
Set up a place to keep your calendar and contacts. (Online or paper)
What are your best practices for organizing your home office? Let me know in the comments below.