Has this ever happened to you? You’ve just returned from a business trip and your briefcase is bulging with receipts, meeting notes and other essential paperwork. You’ll probably spend your first day back in the office just sorting through the chaotic mass of paper before you can even think about getting down to business!

Or, perhaps you travel all over the city attending one meeting after another. By the end of the day your briefcase is a pile of to-dos with no particular order. Phone messages are scattered on various pieces of paper and you just know that an important message is hidden somewhere in the mess. Then there are the business cards you collected: some require follow-up, but you’re not sure where you put those important cards. If only you had kept things in a safe place so you could remember where you put them.

At this point, all those good intentions to take action and follow up on hot new business leads fizzle into frustration. But there’s not time to think about how you misplaced those essential items. The minute you’re back in the office you find there is a pile of emails waiting for your response in addition to a large pile of papers on your desk begging for your attention. You dive right in to the emails and before you know it the morning is gone and it’s lunchtime. You work through lunch in order to attack the pile of paper on your desk. Then you realize you haven’t listened to your voicemail messages, so you abandon the paper pile and listen to all your voicemail messages. It’s a never-ending circle of paper, email and voicemail, and you haven’t even cracked open your briefcase. You just spend the day reacting to emergencies and interruptions with no planned scheduled time to deal with the important issues that you had hoped to get to.

This continues day after day and you’re still dragging all those papers from your business trip in your briefcase and you’ve been adding to it during the week as you attended more meetings. Now you have no idea what’s what and it all melts together into one big mountain of paper begging for your attention. How long do you let this go on before you decide to take action? For some its days and other’s its weeks or months. Those hot new leads you made on your business trip aren’t so hot now and the longer you leave it the more you procrastinate on taking action. Eventually you take mountain of paper out of your briefcase and drop it on the floor by your desk and say you’ll deal with it later because you have more important things to take care of in the office. Guilt sets in and it constantly nags at you to do something but you don’t. You know you should get your business receipts handled but you’re not sure where they all are and it ends up costing you money when you could have been reimbursed.

Here are some tips on how to put an end to the briefcase drama scenario:

1. Streamline and organize your briefcase so you know what the next action is on any piece of paper while you’re out of town and when you arrive back at your office. There is a sleek durable and professional looking product on the market that I like to use. Go to http://www.simplyproductive.com/
products/toolstrade.html to view and order the product. What I like about it is the durable fabric on the outside with insertable tabs, zippered side pocket and zippered closure. The zipper pocket on the outside is great for storing a pen, pencil, small post-it-notes and a highlighter. Inside this mini-travel briefcase there are 13 dividers to hold important papers while you’re outside the office. The zipper enclosure allows easy access versus the accordion files with a flap enclosure that are awkward to use. Remember, ease of access and functionality are very important when using any organizing product.

2. Label the 13 tabs inside this mini-travel briefcase with the next action “Call, Data Entry, Discuss, Expense Reimburse, File, Meeting Notes/Agenda, Photocopy, Read, or Write”. Their will be extra tabs inside this mini-travel briefcase for you to insert your business cards, small brochures, thank you cards and other items you need to want to have on hand when you travel. You’ll be amazed at the amount of paper that you can get into this sleek travel briefcase.

3. How to use this mini-travel briefcase when outside your office. File meeting agendas under the file tab labeled “Meeting Notes/Agenda so when you get to the meeting it’s all together. If you collect business cards during your trip there are 2 things you can do with the business card: (1) enter it immediately into your PDA, or (2) file it into your mini travel briefcase under “Data Entry”. When you return to your hotel or your office any cards that you wanted to get into your database are all grouped together. You can enter them yourself or delegate the task to someone else.

4. Define the next action. No more putting it aside to deal with it later. This is what I call “deferred decisions”. Instead, ask yourself this very important question: “What is the next action I need to take on this piece of paper?

5. Schedule a specific time in your calendar to handle that next action. This is the key to getting things done. A pile or file labeled “To Do” is only an intention to do something, where as a scheduled appointment is a commitment to take action on something.

6. Use clear project folders to keep like papers together. Go to www.simplyproductive.com to view and order these timesaving and space saving project folders. Use these project folders to keep your agenda and meetings notes together in your mini-travel briefcase. You may be attending several meetings and these project folders are sure to keep your papers grouped together. Do not use paper clips, they tend to attach to other pieces of paper and get caught on other paper clips.

7. 80/20 Rule - 80 percent of what we file we never refer to again. Therefore, ask yourself, "What is the worst possible case scenario if you tossed this piece of paper away?”. If you can live with the results of your answer to this question, then toss the piece of paper.

8. What to file for future reference. If you decided to keep the information on a piece of paper, ask yourself: "If I want to retrieve this information again, what trigger word would you think of?” Write the trigger word on the upper right hand corner of that piece of paper and file it in your mini-travel briefcase under "File".

9. Transferring papers when you return. When you return to your office after the business trip or day of meetings, everything that you’ve gathered during your time away from the office is grouped together by the next action. Instead of a mountain of paper spilling out of your briefcase, you’ll be ahead of the paper chase game because you’ve already defined the next action. All there is for you to do is to schedule time in your calendar to handle the actions in your mini-travel briefcase. Some of the actions like Data Entry, File, and Expense Reimburse you can delegate to your assistant if you have one. That feeling of guilt and shame won’t be there because you’ve handled what you said you would do when you returned to your office.

Travel tips:

- Schedule time at the end of each day when you are traveling to file papers into your mini-travel briefcase.

- Schedule time in your calendar when you return from your business trip to handle your action items in your mini-travel briefcase.

- Use your mini-travel briefcase as a visual checklist for items you need to bring with you. For example insert items to read under the “Read” tab. Double check that you have enough business cards and brochures, thank you notes, letterhead, postage and return address labels, if you need them.

- Photocopy your passport and credit cards. Store document in a safe place.

- Tradeshows, Conventions, Meetings – write on the back of the business cards the date, location and next action. If you have an assistant, delegate the data entry of the business cards and have the next actions scheduled into your calendar or typed into your Task List.

Implementing the mini-travel briefcase will dramatically decrease your stress level and increase your productivity when you return to your office. You’ll turn piles of paper into valuable resources instead of deferred decisions and guilt. Instead of reacting to emergencies you’ll be proactive on your commitments and follow-up.

Contact Simply Productive to order your "Mini- travel Briefcase" with customized preprinted labels ($25 + shipping). Simply Productive will assist you in getting your paper management system set up quickly and easily. Before you know it, we can tame your papers and find anything in 5 seconds or less, guaranteed. It’s what we call the One Day Miracle. Contact Simply Productive for more information about how this works (604) 233-7076 or www.simplyproductive.com.

Author's Bio: 

Sherry Borsheim, owner of Simply Productive, has been helping people to work smarter, not harder for years. She specializes in resolving paper, time and information management issues. To learn more about eliminating the paper pile-up and in vastly improving your productively, contact Simply Productive at 604-233-7076.