File | Act | Toss 

In your home or farm office, does today’s mail become tomorrow’s pile? If you’re like most of us, you have problems dealing with the volume of paper that comes to you in the mail and by other means. Clutter is just postponed decisions.

Barbara Hemphill author and organization specialist, says it’s a myth that you should handle each piece of paper only once.  Instead, she recommends handling a piece of paper only once before making a decision about it.  Ask yourself, “What’s the next thing I need to do with this paper?” and take that step.

  1. File
  2. Act
  3. Toss

Another myth many people operate under, Hemphill says, is that you must read something before you file it. Since it’s hard for everybody to keep up with all the stuff they would like to read, she recommends setting up resource files.  File reading material according to the subject matter, then when you want or need to research that subject, you’ll have the information.

Ask yourself, “If I wanted to find this again, what word would I think of?” and file according to that word. Another question to ask is, “If I needed this in the future and didn’t have it, how hard would it be to get this information?” If it would be easy to get hold of it in time of need, go ahead and toss it now. Remember that 80 percent of what’s filed is never retrieved.

Start from Today

If you’re ready to get organized, Hemphill recommends starting with today’s mail rather than tackling that mess on your desk. You can deal with the backlog when your system is operational.

Once you designate homes for all your stuff, maintaining your organizing systems naturally follow. It takes the same amount of time to put paper in the right place, if you have the right place, as it does to put it in the wrong place—one of those every-growing stacks.