Are you trying to imagine a literal pyramid of paper? Fortunately I am not talking literally – though it might be interesting to see one, though I’d imagine none of us would want to deal with it. Nevertheless, papers are the most common struggle we all face – and it can feel like a pyramid. And there can be a pyramid effect to papers, just like my recent discussion, The Pyramid Effect of Getting Organized. Because papers are challenging, it warrants its own discussion – these small pieces need to be evaluated and have a decision made about each one – time and energy consuming.
First some questions:
- Do you currently have a system for your papers?
- Is there room within your system for adding papers? (i.e. is your filing cabinet or whatever stuffed full or not)
- Are you happy (relatively speaking) with your current system?
- How many papers are waiting to be added to your system?
When your answers to the first 3 questions aren’t all yeses, it’s time to consider using the idea of a pyramid to deal with your papers. And if you answer no to all 3, then the pyramid will be the most efficient way to handle those papers. This also reduces the chaos in the short term. Warning – it might feel inefficient and time consuming – that’s because we’re looking at the bigger picture of getting your papers organized in order for you to maintain them and be able to find what you need when you need it, in the long run.
Think about the base of the pyramid – it’s wide and broad. Figure out your broad categories of papers in your life – like financial, health, recipes, articles, personal/kids, memorabilia, photos, and etcetera. There’s a caveat though – you don’t want to separate them into file size divisions. It’s too soon in the process to be attempting this – you’ll get there.
One important category will be those papers that need action from you in the short-term. You need to make sure to keep those available during the process, though once you’ve taken the necessary action you can add them to one of your other categories.
These categories are also meant to be small enough that when you’re ready to move onto the next step, you’ll be close to creating the files. The categories are based on your life, your comfort, and the papers you are dealing with. With one client, the bulk of papers we’re organizing are from her years as an art teacher and her own art supplies – so we created broad categories of images/pictures, technical art info, projects/ideas, blank papers, art history, recipes, articles, and health info.
Keep going through all the papers you can find, adding them to your broad categories – fewer than 10 categories total. Ideally you will not move to the next step in the pyramid until you have gotten all your papers into these groupings – whether they stay in the same category or get moved later in the process. It’s simplest to have all the papers you need to organize all together – in order that you can figure out what and how much you are dealing with. Therefore don’t forget the papers that are already in your filing system, as these will need to be considered in the next step.
Now you’ve gotten all your papers into their broad categories, you pick one of your categories and begin to subdivide that. This is when you can start to think about your specific files, though I’d wait until you’ve sorted everything in that category before doing any actual labeling or filing. As you’re making the piles of papers, you can begin to visually see how small or big they are – giving you a chance to consider whether another division would make sense in order that a file doesn’t become unmanageable.
Once you’ve sorted one category, you can label, put into files (and hanging folders), and into the filing cabinet – if that’s your system. This can also be the time to consider other approaches since using a filing cabinet is only one option for having a system for your papers. Being at this stage means that you will know what your needs are for your papers – at least for this category – and what options are even possible.
After doing this with each category you’ve created, not only will the paper pyramid be gone – it will be organized. By following this process you’ll have created a system that has been tailored to your own needs and will be easy to use – at least when you get around to putting those darn papers away! Yet, with having gone through this process, when the time comes for adding more papers to your system – there will be room and no additional dread. Hopefully now there’s less dismay when you’re ready to tackle the paper pyramid.