We're constantly being overwhelmed by paperwork despite the fact that this is the electronic age and supposedly the need for paper disappeared with the introduction of the personal computer! Whether at home or work, in reality, we still like to read things in 'hard copy' so paper is never going to disappear.

Here are some ways to help you get the paperwork back under control:

The golden rule to dealing with paper is to do something with it the first time you touch it. I don't quite hold with the 'handle it only once' statement, as that doesn't really work in practice but trying to avoid shuffling it from one pile to another is definitely to be recommended.

First point - Go out and buy as many folder, trays, boxes and files as you need to organise your paperwork. You should have separate files or folders for action items, accounts, tax information, client information, invoices, reading etc.

When the post lands on your doormat or the paper comes into your office, decide what to do with it there and then. As you open the morning post, sort it into the appropriate folder/tray.

Action - pay a bill, make a call, make an appointment, fill in a form, sign a document etc. Deal with it immediately or as soon as possible.

If this needs further organisation, create additional files/folders/trays for bills, phone calls, clients and place the paper in the appropriate place. Then all you need to do is to go to this one place.

Read - magazines, reports etc. Put to one side to read later. Again, subdividing into files such as Urgent, Review, Business and Fun might help. Set aside time in your day/week to do the reading. Take a break at lunchtime to read through some paperwork or magazine.

Carry some reading material with you for those quiet moments when you're sitting waiting. Don't let things build up - if something's remained in your unread pile for a period of time, chuck it out. Cancel any magazines that you don't have time to read anymore.

File - statements, receipts, articles etc. Place them to one side in a tray for filing later. Receipts and accounts information should be filed separately so they can be easily dealt with when you're working on your accounts. This is not something that needs to be dealt with immediately and it's the one area that tends to build up and doesn't get the intention it should, so don't let it build up. Clear your filing tray on a weekly basis or perhaps at the end of each day.

Bin - junk mail, flyers etc. This can get thrown out as soon as you receive it. Recycle any paper you can, rather than just chuck it in the bin.

Of course your first task each day is 'planning'. Schedule the time you need during the day for all your tasks - clear your 'Action' folder and make it a habit to clear this by the end of each day. When are you going to go through your 'Reading' file and when do you do your filing?

Tackling a BIG Filing Pile!

If you have a large pile of filing or several piles taking up space on your desk or in your office, set aside a couple of hours in your diary NOW and book in a time to tackle it. This is a useful task to do at the end of the day or if you need to clear a backlog, perhaps at a weekend or even one evening (OK, this should be an exception, I want to reduce your hours not extend them!).

Clear a large space to work in - the kitchen table or the living room floor. Go through it and sort each piece of paper as you go into appropriate folders, files or 'sub-piles'.

- Bin anything you no longer need.
- Action anything that's lurking!
- Put to one side anything that needs to be read.

Depending on how old this pile is (!) you might want to ask yourself, if I haven't read it by now, how relevant is it? ... Bin it!

You may end up surrounded by several piles of bank statements, credit cards statements, client info, paid invoices etc. but at least now you can pick them up in one group and file them all away together.

It's immensely satisfying to reduce a large pile of paperwork that's been glaring at you, into a larger pile that ends up in the bin and a smaller pile that you now need to do something with i.e. file!

A couple of hours should be all that's needed, even for a large pile and if you can't file it all away in one hit, do what you can in the time you've got, then make an effort to clear a little bit each day or even 2-3 times throughout the day and you'll be amazed how quickly it will soon be gone!

Reduce the incoming flood.

Get as much paperwork as you can electronically. Most bank statements and utility bills are now available online and can be stored electronically or printed off - but only if you need them.

Cancel subscriptions to any newspapers or magazines that you no longer need.

Read magazines and newspapers online or go to your local library. Most publications with a website will publish their most recent articles online. Newspaper sites have searchable archives.

Subscribe to the Mailing Preference Service to avoid unnecessary junk mail coming through your door. I significantly reduced the amount of junk mail I received once I'd signed up.

Always tick the box on any forms to stop promotional mail, offers or your address being sent to 3rd parties.

You can recycle old newspapers and magazines by either taking them to your local recycling point to local schools, hospitals, surgeries etc.

How could you streamline your office to reduce what comes in and how much you have to handle in the first place?

Take some time to think about all the paperwork that you have to deal with on a daily basis and come up with a solution to ensure that piece of paper ends up where it should first time round.

Copyright 2006: Clare Evans

Author's Bio: 

Clare Evans is a Personal & Business Coach. She works with busy individuals and small business owners to enable them plan and organise their time more effectively. You can read more articles on Work Life Balance here.