I am old enough to remember the first promise of the Internet – that is was going to save so much paper. Are you laughing as you wade through yesterday’s junque mail and all that stuff you printed from your email this week?
Paper is causing us three problems:
- What to save.
- When to handle the stuff that comes in the mail.
- How to file paper so that we can find it again.
You can save valuable time to apply to your marketing efforts by getting control of all that paper.
If something comes in your email, don’t print it unless you absolutely need that copy to physically hand to someone. Yes, download it to your computer and file it – we’ll talk about logical filing in a moment.
The key to saving files online is backing up your computer! Most people keep a paper copy for safekeeping. You can achieve the same thing with a good filing system on your own hard drive and a regular backup routine for your computer.
Another option is to save everything to a server system like Backpackit.com.
Now for all the other stuff you sift through daily that is piled on your desk, floor, chairs and any other horizontal surface in your home and business.
Rule #1: Touch paper once.
If you can learn to apply this single rule, you’ll save yourself over an hour a week, guaranteed.
For snail mail, do a presort – kind of like what I suggested when we talked about how to manage email.
- One pile is for bills.
- One pile is for junk that you know you’re going to throw away or recycle.
- One pile is for everything else.
Rule #2 – Do it now.
Toss the junk, put the bills in a “current bills” file, or a bill basket, and tackle everything else. Get a good letter opener, open each quickly and make a decision about whether you need to keep and file, toss or respond to.
File what you absolutely know you need to be able to put your hands on sometime in the future. Recycle the toss pile.
Spend a few minutes RIGHT NOW responding to the rest.
So little comes in snail mail these days, this should take you minutes, not hours. Keep a good supply of note cards, stationary, envelopes and stamps in a horizontal file on your desk for handling this.
Interestingly, I haven’t followed my own advice this week, and I just calculated how much time this has cost me over ONE piece of mail. I have an incorrect bill I need to make a call about. The call took exactly 2 minutes. The time I’ve spent shuffling that ONE bill from place to place, thinking about it, and looking for it added up to almost a half hour over the past 5 days.
Rule #3 – File only the paper you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’ll need to refer to in the future.
If you have a copy somewhere online, don’t keep the paper.
We’ll talk about HOW in a few minutes. Right now, let’s talk about the WHAT.
Legal and official stuff
Taxes — Seven years max. for all the receipts etc. Keep your tax returns forever. Don’t store this stuff in your office. Box it in a bank box labeled by year and put in safe storage.
IRA contributions — Permanently.
Retirement/Savings plan statements – Keep the quarterly statements until you receive your annual summary; keep the annual summaries until you retire or close the account.
Bank records – Most are stored online now. For those you still have, throw away any that have no long-term importance, but keep checks related to your taxes, business expenses, and housing and mortgage payments.
Brokerage statements — Until you sell your securities.
Bills – When you receive the canceled check, the bill can be tossed except for bills for big purchases (e.g., jewelry, appliances, cars, collectibles, etc.) for proof of their value in the event of loss or damage.
Credit card receipts and statements – Keep the statements seven years if they document tax-related expenses. Most have online services now. Download a statement, but store it online.
Paycheck stubs – One year. If your W-2 form matches your stubs, you can toss your stubs.
–House/Condominium records and receipts – Keep home improvement receipts until you sell the property.
Will you REALLY read those old newspapers and magazines? If so be prepared to give up the space to keep them organized. Ikea sells inexpensive magazine storage boxes. If they’re worth keeping, they’re worth storing so you can find them.
Stop writing notes to yourself on the backs of envelopes and random scraps of paper. If it’s worth writing down, it’s worth keeping in your Idea File. See A Small Business Owners Guide to Organizing your Entrepreneurial Ideas to get that started. RECYCLE those old envelopes and paper scraps.
HOW to keep papers for ready retrieval
In your safe deposit box
Use your safe deposit box for important documents that are either court or government recorded like birth and marriage certificates, citizenship papers, service records etc.
The original of your will should be at your attorney’s office. Put a copy in your safe deposit box, and file a copy in your filing cabinet at home in a LEGAL DOCS category in a wills file. This is vital since access to the safe deposit box could be legally delayed upon your death, causing unnecessary complications for your survivors.
Certificates for securities, government bonds, any other investment type legal papers and any proof of ownership papers belong in your safe deposit box.
In your filing cabinets
If a piece of paper has made it this far, it’s something you want to be able to immediately put your hands on. Here’s a logical easy way to create a filing system.
Create some categories like home, business, recreation and hobbies. Each of these broad categories needs their own filing cabinet drawer or filing box.
Then create sub-categories in hanging files like Office equipment, employees, marketing, 2006 home remodel, hot air balloon etc.
Then create your specific individual files which live inside those hanging files such as Macbook, fax machine, 2006 kitchen remodel, business contracts-bob’s fishing guides, 2008 customer referrals, balloon insurance, etc.
Alphabetize your category hanging files in the proper drawers and alphabetize the specific individual files within the proper category files.
As you sort paper, keep asking yourself, “In 2 years is this the most logical place I’d go to look for this?”
File paper for 5 minutes everyday. Don’t let it sit around and compost, or all your hard work will be for nothing.
Is it worth getting this system set up?
Here’s a story about the value of organization. My mother was the most organized person on the planet. She filed logically, kept records of all her phone calls and correspondence, and kept a daily journal noting her general health, her schedule and little details about her day. Her system was so engrained in her, that she was able to keep it going and function effective through early and middle stages of Altzheimer’s. She didn’t remember much, but knew instinctively where to get the information about those memory gaps she was experiencing.
Let’s hope none of us needs organization for that reason, but think about how much time you’ll save by eliminating that paper mania we all feel.
Have fun this weekend organizing those papers, and remember to recycle everything you can!
Do you have any paper organizing tips to share?