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The Lifecycle of Paper

Papers on your desk are piled up in their own lifecycle, here’s how to understand this cycle and create a system to organize them.

Understanding how papers enter and exit your workspace is the first step toward organization.

Desk Paper PileAll the time I hear clients say that they feel like they are absolutely buried under paper. It is so easy to feel like things are out of control when your desk, chair, or floor is covered with piles. It can feel like paper takes on a life of its own when it starts to gather and sit in piles on your desk, but the truth is there are a series of stages that every piece of paper goes through from the time when it comes into your office to the time when it leaves. Understanding those steps is essential to managing paper effectively.

The stages of the life of paper are:

1. Paper comes into your space—you receive mail, you print something out, or a co-worker hands you a project.

2. You sort the paper—you prioritize and organize the papers by due date, categories, or action types.

3. You process the paper—you take the actions each item requires; perhaps one document needs to be read, an invoice needs to be paid, or a form needs to be filled out.

4. The paper leaves your workspace—you put it in the mail, file it, shred it, or recycle it.

All those papers piled high on your desk reside in one stage or another of this lifecycle. Understanding this, you can now create a system to organize them.

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