Ask the Experts

Navigating A Sea Of Paper

“I have to deal with lots of papers from a lot of different sources — my students’ papers, my children’s school papers, mail that may or may not be important, and just stuff. It makes me want to cry just to think of how these pieces of paper seem to control my life. What can I do?” — VMT, Maryland

You are in charge of the paper, it is not in charge of you. You have all the control and the power; the paper has none except what you give it. Once you truly understand that, it becomes easier to handle all the paper that comes into your life.

The first step is to sort through the papers and see exactly what you’ve got. Categorize your papers and create a place to put each type of paper. Go through your mail every single day and be sure to keep a large trashcan or recycle bin handy – don’t be afraid to pitch. A trashcan is one of the most underutilized organizational tools that we each have available.

Write to Mail Preference Service, c/o Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008, to get your name off junk mail lists.

Be sure to include all the variations of the spelling of your name and write to them at least once a year. This will not completely eliminate your junk mail, but it will cut it down by about 40%.

Call 1.888.5.OPT.OUT to get your name removed from credit card solicitation lists. If you want to selectively remove catalogs from your mail, simply cut or rip off theaddress label of the catalog, draw a line through your address, write ‘Please remove me from your mailing list’, and mail it to the company. They will be happy to remove your name from their list.

Keeping track of your children’s papers can be as simple as giving each child his/her own IN basket or tray. As the papers come in each day from school, the child (depending on the age) is responsible for dumping the papers in to his/her basket. A client of mine attached photos of her daughters to their baskets instead of using their names to identify which basket belonged to which child. Having separate baskets or trays keeps thechildren’s papers from getting mixed up with the other papers that come into the house.

My assumption is that you have papers from your students that require action on your part — either to read or grade or review. Create an Action area near where you take that action. For example, if you work on your students’ papers at a desk, create an Action tray on or near the desk so when you sit down to take that action, all the papers you need are in one location. It’s also important to create an Out area for your action papers so you will know at a glance which papers still require action and which don’t.

If you typically take action on your students’ papers in the kitchen, or look at them in the evening in the living room while you’re watching television, then create that Action and Out area in the kitchen or living room. One of my clients reviewed her mail in the living room in the evenings so we created a box for her. The box contained everything she needed to process her mail, including folders, so as she went through her mail, she just dropped each piece into the appropriate folder. When she was finished, she literally just put the lid back on the box and put the box on the floor next to her chair. Even if she didn’t go through the box for a few days, everything was there waiting for her when she got around to it. You could easily create something similar to handle your students’papers – have everything you need to process the papers handy, whether it’s pens, markers, erasers, stickers, glue, tape, staples, staple remover, etc.

If you create this area at your desk, these items would go into a drawer; if you create this area in your living room, then you can use a box as well.

There will always be mail that you can’t categorize or make a decision on right away, so it’s ok to have an area or folder for those papers that you have to come back to. The key is to review that area or folder each week and clean it out — make a decision on those items that you can.

As papers quickly accumulate, it’s critical to stay on top of incoming papers. Schedule a time to go through your mail and incoming papers each day or evening so it doesn’t stack up and become a huge pile – it’s easier to work through a small pile every day than one huge pile once every few weeks. It’s much less overwhelming and takes less time out of your day.

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