If you’re ever wondering why your paperwork doesn’t stay organized, then you may be missing this one magical action when you sort.

The next time you stop to sort a large pile (or even years worth of papers!) begin very naturally, just like you normally do. 

You’ll most likely come across all different kinds of paperwork, from manuals, notes, photos, quotes, bills, advertisements, legal paperwork, business receipts, personal receipts, etc….

Now, here’s the magical action that need to happen when you are sorting: You’ll need a sharpie and piece of paper, or index cards.

Once your sorted piles begin to form, really notice what is happening in your head, what are you saying a piece of paper is? what exact thoughts appear when you pick up a piece of paper?

For example (sorting thoughts): 

I need to file this.

File. 

Trash.

I don’t want to look at this right now. It’s too much to 

Old to-do list. Need to see what all hasn’t been done.

Old grocery shopping list.

File.

Trash

Trash

I still want to travel here.

Oh, I’ll use this coupon. Must keep.

Memorabilia 

Check this out. Do more research. And, make a decision.

Financial stuff needed for taxes.

Client notes.

Other people’s stuff to help me with biz.

I don’t even want to look at this. It’s too much for me to go through right now.

School stuff.

Career stuff.

File.

File.

File.

Decorating ideas.

DIY around the house projects.

John Doe’s paper

Trash.

Trash.

Wish lists. Gift ideas.

Trash.

I’ve used random thoughts that may pop into your head while you are sorting, to guide you on how this works. Whatever pops into your head when you touch each piece of paper is perfect.

I think you probably get the idea. Simply notice what you’re saying in your head. As your piles begin to form, take a piece of paper and write the word, phrase, or thoughts that cross your mind. Some piles may have 2 or more thoughts associated with it.  Just write down whatever pops into your head!

Place the sorting label somewhere near the corresponding pile as you continue working to help you keep your piles easy to understand

IF and WHEN you get tired of sorting, or starting feeling overwhelmed by the stack of papers you have left to sort, then you can either stop OR simply find easy to sort items to pull out.

IF and WHEN your sorted piles begin to take up too much space and begins to feel overwhelming or makes you want to stop, then stop. 

There is no need to force this sorting step or make it harder. 

The important thing at this very moment is that you made a good start on sorting, AND that you took that magical action of making sorting labels.

Whenever you have rested your brain and are feeling ready to get the sorted piles put away properly, then come back to do the following. It’s an important step!

Here’s the part that is going to help you set up systems so your paperwork stays organized for longer periods of time: For each sorting label you made, when you pick up that pile of papers, it needs it’s very own system. 

I’ll give you 3 examples of how each sorted pile needs its own system, but you’ll use your own method, (this is only an idea of what the system may need to look like, okay?):

  1. For tax related paperwork, for a business especially, you probably want to set up a system to keep your accounting records organized and complete. So, the next step for you may be an accordion file.  And when you are ready to do your data entry then you can grab one month worth of financial papers (or hand off to your accountant). Either way, it’s a great way to sort accounting records by month – bank statements, expenses, payment receipts, pay outs, etc can be stored by each month. You could also sort by expense/income category, instead of by month. That will depend on what makes the most sense for you.

2. For client notes, your system to keep them organized may include a binder, set of file folders, or another method to organize each person’s notes. Think like a doctor’s office, each patient gets a file folder (including on the computer). Once your paper is sorted and you have a pile of client notes, then you’ll need to process the client’s notes into their file folders (or whatever type of client organizing container is best for you!)

3. For items that you wrote phrases like “need to put on calendar, need to call, need to pay, need to make appointment, need to consolidate to-do lists”, you’ll set up a system to take action on these items.

You can peek at the organizing containers I use right here: Start here.

For example, near your workspace, you’ll have your calendar and phone – once you’ve added an item to your calendar, then you can put the notes/invitation/reminder in a “Save the Date” file folder. When the day comes for that scheduled event, then you can grab the details from the folder.

If you need to make phone calls or do reasearch on the computer, for example, for insurance quotes, then once you can have a place on or near your desk for that tasks until it’s completed. Once completed you can toss or save the research info in a file cabinet system.

If you need to consolidate your to-do lists, then once you’ve reviewed them all and created a new master to-do list, then you can either toss old to-do lists, file them in the file cabinet, or simply keep them all together with the main to-do list on top. The main to-do list stays on top or near your workspace.

The main point I’m making is that each of your pre-sorted piles of paper will need to flow to the next corresponding system for processing the paper.  Set that system up! Then the paper may have another step or it may simply need to be filed or tossed. 

Your sorting system leads directly to your organized systems. In the end the systems will all be connected. A piece of paper may flow from a sorted pile, across your desk, completed, and ultimately end up filed in a file cabinet for permanent storage. When your systems make complete sense to you and flows like a cycle, it’s done correctly.

If you need help, I’m here! I can help you identify the systems you need simply by listening to you think out loud as you sort. Paper can be complicated to organize, and that’s why so many people get into a paper rut. I have zero doubts that you can organize things in a way that works for you. And, that your systems will stay organized!