3 Steps to Organizing the Paper in Your Home Office

You look at your desk/home office and you see the mountain of paper. It makes for an uncomfortable situation when you are trying to be productive in your office but the clutter of the paper is driving you crazy. It's a huge distraction, with your mind shifting back and forth between the project at hand and when you are going to organize these papers. It may even be so bad that at this point you don't even work in your home office.

If you're older than 18, you probably remember when everything we received was paper-based: receipts, bank statements, user guides for new equipment, school assignments, pictures, etc. Now that we've reached the “digital age” we are now able to store information electronically on our computer or “in the cloud” and access them anywhere. Some companies are even super-fancy and will send you your receipts via email (thank you Apple).

So whether you are ready to embrace the digital age and go paperless (which is not the focus of this article), here are three steps to organizing the paper in your office.

Step 1: Determine Categories for Filing/Organization

Before you proceed to Step 2, figure out how you want to organize your paper. Here are some good categories to get you started:

  • Business: with sub-categories for areas such as Marketing, Clients, Legal, Products, Services
  • Financial: sub-categories such as Statements, Receipts, Warranties, Insurance Policies, Income Taxes
  • Personal Development: sort the contents by topic or author
  • User Manuals/Guides: sort the contents by manufacturer (Sharp, Apple, HTC, General Electric) or type (computer-related, kitchen-related, office-related)

Write each category you select on an index card or post-it note. When you're ready to sort through your papers, place it next to the category where it belongs.

Step 2: Sort and Purge

Now that you have a pretty good game plan on how you want to organize your papers, it's time to sort and purge. Ask yourself two questions as you're going through your papers: “The last time I used/needed this information was?” If you can't remember, trash the item (or shred it if the contents have personal information on it). If you legitimately need the paper, place it in the pile of the category it belongs.

Most things that file away we never look at again, so be sure the paper you are keeping is something you truly need.

Step 3: Determine Your Filing Strategy and Organize

At this point, you've gotten your paper to a very manageable quantity (and you can now see the top of your desk). Now it's time to file the paper that you want to keep, away. If the paper is something you'll use later or need access to frequently, consider converting it into a digital artifact (e.g., scan and store it electronically). That way, you have access to it whether you have your computer or not and you have a second copy of it.

If you're interested in getting a Digital Blueprint containing step-by-step instructions on how to go completely digital and paperless, click here. I'll let you know when it's available.

Depending on your Organizational Personality, your method of filing will vary. Here are a few options to get started:

  • 3-Ring Binders. You can go fancy and pick some colorful or textured binders.
  • Boxes. These file boxes can be stored on your desktop or on a shelf. You may prefer boxes where you can store the papers flat versus vertically.
  • Filing Cabinets. Whether you want the papers hidden or you want to them visible, there is a solution for you.

Final Words

The most visible way to find flow in your home office and turn yourself into a productivity ninja is by eliminating the paper clutter in your home office. Set yourself a time-limit, pull out that timer, and begin tackling that paper!

So tell me, does your pile of papers look more like a mountain or a molehill? Leave a comment below describing how you organize your papers or what's your biggest frustration with paper in your home office.