I’ve been working with a new client who called because she was overwhelmed by paper. When I arrived for the first time, I noticed that the problem isn’t so much the volume of paper – considerable though it is – but the number of places she has created to put things down.
So far, her effort stops at the sorting step. Instead of filing the papers she had sorted and tossing the outdated ones at the end of a year, she just buys a new set of trays, bins, drawers, files or furniture. The result has been many piles of the same category. No wonder she was overwhelmed.
This is actually a common problem I see with my clients. If your first reaction to feeling overwhelmed is to go buy something, so you have a place to put something, it could be yours as well.
To solve this form of clutter in the long run, you are going to want to give yourself fewer options. These 3 steps will help you regain control of your piles and keep them from becoming overwhelming ever again.
1. Consolidate. Start by combining like piles and as you empty a tray, folder, bin, or box, get the container out of the way. Each time a container is emptied, ask yourself if you like it better than the one you have been consolidating into – keep the one you like best. It’s time to stop hiding things from yourself.
It may seem counter intuitive to create a giant pile, however, looking through one pile is less overwhelming than looking through 87 piles. You will get to say, “I know it’s right here,” instead of “it could be anywhere.” It also helps you to keep just the most current version of things later.
2. Eliminate options. As you eliminate other places something might be, keep defining the place it will be. Say “all incoming bills will go in this tray from now on, and once they are paid, they will go in the file.” Knowing the spot to put something will help you keep from thinking that you need to create a new place.
Now, with the spots clearly defined it will be easy to use the spot as a limiter. Once that tray is full, it’s time to pay the bills and move the pieces of paper forward through the system. If the magazine rack is full, it’s time to rotate something out, not go buy a new rack.
3. Create a system. A good system includes the processing and rotating of the things the system is designed to control. Take the time to think through, possibly even write down your steps, so if you get off track, you can refer to it and quickly get back to it.
Stop just sorting, and develop a process for dealing with your information. Don’t forget to include the recycling and filing steps. Make the easy decisions first to keep the volume as low as possible as you process the piles.
This is how you build the habits to keep organized for a really long time. Have a plan, and work your plan. I created my fining system about 20 years ago and because I have a plan about how often to review it, how to use it on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis, it has stayed intact and functional the whole time.
So, take down the ironing board, decide the counters are for cooking and the table for eating at, put all your papers in one place and see how much less overwhelming your space can be.
Keep Reading: Save Time. Make a Decision and Stick with It.