Now that you’ve collected all your papers and gathered the necessary tools to help you get the job done, let’s identify what you've got!
Pick It Up. Begin by picking up the first piece of paper nearest you. Take a deep breath and determine that whatever stack you started with, that you’ll finish that stack before venturing to the next. This trick will help you easily return to work after taking a break.
Decide to Keep It or Toss It. Studies have shown that 80% of what is filed NEVER sees the light of day again. If you’ve got 1000 pieces of paper that means you could be wasting time trying to file 800 pieces you’ll never need to retrieve. Don’t do that. Make the decision to toss or shred NOW so that you can reduce the number of documents that make up your 80%. Here are some guidelines to get you started tossing and keeping.
This chart by Clean Mama will help you know how long to keep past documents. If you're unsure about a specific document and have gone through the infographic twice, keep it. We'll weed it out later down the road --- but remember, delayed decisions are what got you into this paper mess in the first place.
Place It. Put your file over to the empty side of your work space. You’ll end up with quite a few of these, so having a banker’s box or other container to help the folders stand up is handy but not necessary. I recommend putting these files in alphabetical order, so that as you identify similar documents (i.e., another "bill to pay") you can quickly find the correct folder and drop the document in there.
Repeat. Grab the next sheet of paper on top of the same stack you started with. Go through the process again. Do NOT under any circumstances label a file “Miscellaneous” and start dropping items into it. That’s not okay. Misc files are delayed decision making. They are what’s been plaguing you this whole time. Fight the urge to turn back to what you know! It wasn’t working for you then and it won’t magically start working for you now.
At the end of this exercise, you will have NO MORE stacks of paper. Every piece you’re keeping will be contained in a handy dandy manila folder, unless you ran out. If you did happen to run out, I hope you labeled those non-filed stacks with a post-it. Post-its are my trusty backup when I’m folderless. The next time we meet, we’ll be talking about where to store these “contained” papers. I hope you’ll join us.