Manage your paper with dedicated spaces for each step in the lifecycle of paper.
If there are 4 stages in the lifecycle of paper—it comes into your workspace, you sort it, you take action to address it, and it leaves your office—then it makes sense to create dedicated spaces devoted to each step. Creating these 4 areas will keep you on top of your workload and maximize efficiency.
Inbox. This is where your all your new mail, papers, printouts, business cards, etc., land until you have time to review and sort them. It is important to know that this step is completely action free. You don’t read the mail—you don’t even open it; you don’t process the papers. The only purpose of the inbox is to collect all your documents so that they are ready and waiting for you when you actually have time to work on them.
Hot files area. This is where the sorting and processing step happens. This could be a desktop file box or a small section of your file drawer. Here you sort and separate all of the documents that you are currently working on. Within this area you should organize your hot files by action categories—for instance, bills to pay, mail to read, correspondence, calendar items, etc. These should all be common action categories that have their own separate hanging file in your hot files. As you are sorting through your inbox, you can simply drop each document into the corresponding hot file. Once things are in your hot files, it’s easy to grab a folder and take all of the actions at once. You’ll find you’ve streamlined your workflow considerably.
Archival or cold storage area. This might be a file cabinet or a file drawer for reference information and other types of documents that have moved through your hot files but you still need to hold onto indefinitely. Just like your hot files your archive is organized by category, perhaps organized by vendors, customers, or clients; invoices that you’ve printed or received; or financial statements or projections.
Outbox. This is where you put any papers that need to leave your space, like faxes or outgoing mail.
By organizing the paper in your office into these four areas, you’ll never lose track of a paper or project because every piece will have its place!