Prepare for battle with your paper piles

You walk into your office to square off with piles of paper. Just entering the room and looking at the stacks on your desk, the top of the file cabinet and piles on the floor drains you.

How are you supposed to work when you feel overwhelmed in your space?

This is where you want to be creative, productive and work efficiently. Sift through one pile, you discover a missing client file along with articles to read, expired coupons, meeting notes and a coffee gift card. It would have been nice to have these papers when you actually needed them, right? The coffee would have been nice, too.

Are you ready to tackle the paper piles or would you rather just shut the door and leave? Where’s that coffee card?

Clients tell me they’d like to do the latter, but sometimes you just have to buckle down and go through the piles. I hope to make this process easier for you today. First, let me explain the four systems that you should have in place.

Sensitive Storage

This would be a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box at the bank. Keep in mind, the bank will be the more secure option, but you will be subject to bank hours to access your vital documents. Use a safe for important paperwork that you want to protect such as passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates, Social Security cards, divorce decrees and vehicle titles.

Archive Storage

This is for paperwork that you need to keep for tax or legal reasons. But, you don’t need to store these papers in your prime real estate in the top file drawer in your office. You can store archive files in a file cabinet in a lower drawer or other space since you won’t access them often.

Long-Term Storage

These are simply your reference or resource files that you can place in a file cabinet. You should store papers you feel you may need to refer to in the future.

Your filing cabinet should not contain work in progress. The exception to this is if you set up an ‘old school’ tickler file system in the top file drawer. Tickler files may be old school, but they still work.

Action System Files

These are the papers and files that you want at your fingertips on your desk because you’re actively working on them.

Your action system may come in the form of a file box with folders, a step sorter with folders, stacking trays or a wall pocket system. Use a label maker. Even if you have great handwriting, a label will be easier to read and look more professional.

Now you’re familiar with the systems, we can move on to how to attack those daunting piles. It’s easier than you think.

Step 1

Get four boxes and put a big label on the front of each box for each system: Sensitive, Archive, Long-Term and Action. Now you’re going to do a “rough sort.”

Take only one pile at a time and separate papers into the correct box. Keep a box for shred and a recycle bin close at hand for papers that you can part with right away.

Now here’s the key to the rough sort: Keep moving quickly. You’re not going to stop and fill out a form, make a phone call or pay a bill. Toss information that’s expired, outdated or a duplicate. You will get another opportunity to look at what you’ve sorted.

Step 2

Go through the boxes for each system more closely now. Take one box or system at a time. Is there more paper that you can purge? It’s time to get down to the paperwork you know you want and need to keep.

Step 3

Create your systems. Gather your vital documents from the box and place them into a safe or safe deposit box. You can use hanging files in some fireproof safes which can be handy. Your archive files can go into the bottom drawer of your file cabinet, a separate file cabinet or bankers boxes. The long-term files in your file cabinet will take the longest to set up. Use new hanging file folders with clear tabs, manila folders and a label maker. Always name files the way you think for easy recall. Don’t get lost in your own file cabinet.

Step 4

Once you have your office organized with these amazing files, you’ll want to keep it that way, right? The key to success is regular maintenance. Take 10 minutes at the end of each day to restore order and file regularly. Don’t let overwhelming piles build back up again.

Monika Kristofferson is a professional organizer and productivity consultant who owns Efficient Organization NW in Lake Stevens. Reach her at 425-220-8905 or

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