Three words that should be said more often: Systems. Of. Organization.
These words should be underlined (with a ruler, in red pen) and push-pinned to the top of every unstable pile of paper in your office.
When I walk into an office, my eyes reflexively look around to see if there are systems of organization in place. Inbox? Outbox? Filing system? This isn’t done with judgment, but curiosity. I’m fascinated by the way that each of us uses our space productively. I’m fascinated by the way that many people don’t give any thought to where the “paper” in their office goes.
In this age of technology and email, we are continuously reducing the need for physical paper to find its way to our desk. For better or for worse, we are less buried in the physical representation of our systems of organization.
This means that the art of paper management is also becoming obsolete before it’s time.
We still need ways in which to organize the invoices, receipts, letters, background information, and schedules that are distributed in our day-to-day work lives. Unlike with email organization (using “tasks” or “red flags” as a reminder for when to handle certain items), there isn’t a built-in paper-manager that comes with each office space.
And so, I bring you a tried and true method from the administrative-assistant era of our mothers, and their mothers before them. A true system of organization: the Bring Forward Method.
STEP ONE: Buy some awesome file folders
These ones are from Staples.ca
You will need 31 folders in order to encompass every day on the calendar within each potential month.
STEP TWO: Label the folders with numbers 1 through 31
I used plain labels, but feel free to jazz it up. Put a label on the top right corner of each file, with the numbers from one to thirty one.
These ones are easy to order online.
STEP THREE: Use an upright file holder to house the folders on your desk.
I recommend using an organizer that puts all folders on the same level — you'll be shuffling folders from back to front each day/week. Make it easy on yourself, and esthetically pleasing. This is a neat vintage one from Etsy.
STEP FOUR: Triage and file
Now comes your commitment to abolish piles of paper from your desk. If a piece of mail, policy document, invoice, bill, or any other piece of paper comes into your world ask yourself:
"Can I deal with this right now?"
If the answer is "yes" then deal with it, and shred/file it. As my wise mother always says "touch everything once" as a mantra for effective time (and paper) management.
If the answer is "I can't deal with this right now" then decide when it is you CAN deal with it. Tomorrow? At the meeting next Tuesday? At the end of the month? When you've decided when to handle/file/shed this item file it under the Bring Forward file with the corresponding date.
Each morning when you arrive, bright-eyed, caffeinated, and bushy-tailed, at your desk — pull the daily Bring Forward file. Handle those items today. Then file/shed.
Then, put the empty file at the back of the stack to receive the next month's incoming items.
Boom! Your systems of organization are alive and well.
STEP FIVE: Share this post with the paper pilers in your life
You know who they are — or perhaps you might not, given that you can't see their faces behind the clutter on their desks. Give them a helpful nudge. Buy them some folders and labels.
Plus, now that you use systems of organization, you have a right to be just a little smug.