Clutter is an enemy of time management. Some people more than others have a need to save everything, but doing so increases your stress and reduces your efficiency. A long time ago a friend of mine made the statement that possessions always cost you more in time and money than the purchase price. What a true statement. Just think about when you buy a car. After the purchase you have to license it, insure it, find a place to park it, fill it with gas, have regular maintenance performed, wash it, etc. One purchase leads to so many other things. The same thing is true for the things we keep or collect in our lives. Taming your paperwork habits can be one of the best time management skills you can develop.

You can’t stop it. Even if you do nothing to create or generate paperwork yourself you still can’t stop the endless flow coming your direction through the mail or passed on from other people. But you must control or master it before it masters you and causes you a lot of unnecessary and unwanted frustration and stress.

Let’s begin learning your new time management skill to tame paperwork by focusing on how you think about or categorize it. Whether the paperwork is personal or professional it needs action now, needs action in the future, never needs action, or it’s something you want to keep for later reference. Start with any pile anywhere and begin to sort it based on those four categories. Do this quickly and don’t spend time debating about it or thinking beyond just sorting into these four categories.

Now I want you to start with the reference pile(s). Limit yourself to no more than six categories for personal or professional reference. These categories can be very general in nature. Professionally you might want reference categories related to: industry specific knowledge, marketing, sales, and customer care. Identify your categories and prepare to store information in these categories. You might be able to do this in a file folder, a stack tray, a card board box, or you might even need a separate filing cabinet. Guestimate what will work for you and do another quick sort placing these items in their new home. Now, how about a reality check looking at the quantity of information you think you need for future reference. If you haven’t needed this information in say three years, how important can it be. Try to get rid of as much old information as you possibly can. The more things you think you have to keep the more time it will take you to retrieve that information in the event you ever need it. If it’s really important when you need it you’ll really need it so you may want to consider transferring it into an electronic format where it will be easier to retrieve, and it won’t be cluttering up your life.

I think you know where something that never needs action and isn’t a reference item goes, the garbage. The only things left are those that need immediate action and those that need action in the future. It’s really easy and helpful to slip things that need action in the future into file folders labeled for the days of the month and the months of the year. Put those items in the folder that represents your best estimate of when you need to take action on it. That leaves only the items that need immediate action left. While all the other stuff should be out of sight and out of mind these items belong front and center where you’ll be accessing and removing them as you work through them.

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