Seattle Community

Debbie Rosemont, CPO
Certified Professional Organizer, Productivity Consultant & Productivity Trainer
Sammamish, Washington
Greatly helpful
out of 10
6 votes

Do You Have A Paper Pain?

Papers accumulate in all areas of our lives. By taking the time to set up filing systems that work for you, you can reduce the time you spend filing and spend it doing other things instead!
Written Oct 24, 2008, read 1822 times since then.


Are you overwhelmed by the amount of paper that is constantly coming into your home, work or life?  If so, you are not alone!  How would it feel to get those large piles of paper off of your desk, your kitchen counter or your office floor?  There are two main types of filing systems: Action and Reference.

An Action Filing System is for those papers that require action. Action systems can be set up three different ways:

1) Tickler System – File by the date you intend to act on paper. (i.e. Create 1-31 files for each day of the month & January - December files for each month of the year). If you will pay a bill or invoice on the 15th of October, file it in the 15th file. If you have a piece of paper that reminds you to start a project in January, it goes in the January file. On the last day of each month take the papers in the next month’s file and move them into the appropriate 1-31 files.

2) Categorical – File by what you intend to do. (ie. “Bills to Pay,” “Calls to Make,” “To Read,” etc.)
3) Hierarchical – File by importance (ie. “Urgent,” “Important,” Somewhat Important,” “Low Priority,” Someday Maybe,” etc.)

Whichever one of these three systems you choose, make sure it fits your personal organizing style. You may need to try out each system to see which one makes most sense to you. By using one of these systems, you ensure that paper you need to act on right now is not buried underneath paper that does not require your immediate attention. Less distraction, more action.

set up your Action Filing System in a visible and central location, such as on the kitchen counter or on your desk top. There are many decorative file boxes & containers available. Alternately – the drawer in your desk on your dominant side (right if you’re right-handed) gets these papers out of sight, but not out of mind. You’ll want to establish the habit of checking this drawer or container daily.

The second type of filing system is a Reference Filing System. Reference files are for those papers you need to keep but don’t necessarily require action. You’re keeping them to refer to them later. For home filing needs, these papers include items such as: paid bills, tax archives, medical records, auto records, health insurance plan, etc. For business needs these papers include such items as: client records, vendor information, human resource files, business resources, marketing, PR, budget, business plans, etc. For your reference filing system it is very important to have ample space to file your papers. When a filing cabinet is over-full, it makes it extremely difficult to file papers away.

There are several different ready-made filing systems/kits available for home and business purposes. Once you have set up effective action and reference filing systems, you’re ready to tackle your piles. Ask yourself these questions as you sort through each piece of paper:

Do I need this?
Is the information outdated or still relevant today?
Can I get this information someplace else?
Why am I holding onto this?

Statistically, we only retrieve 20% or less of what we file away. To eliminate much of the stress & clutter that paper brings, it is important to reduce the amount of paper you keep when possible. Make the recycle bin or shredder your new best friend!

Learn more about the author, Debbie Rosemont, CPO.

Comment on this article

  • Massage, Bodywork, Healing touch, Injury Treatment, Medical Massage, Intuitive Masssage 
Seattle, Washington 
Sierra  Kennedy LMP
    Posted by Sierra Kennedy LMP, Seattle, Washington | Oct 26, 2008

    This was actually pretty good to read. Good for me because I do have that "drowning in paper" issue and I have tried to read that book: "getting things done" and it confused me more than your simple article did.

    I like how neat and to-the-point you explain these different options and how to apply them.

  • Undress the Stress Coach 
Surrey, British Columbia Canada 
Marianna  Paulson
    Posted by Marianna Paulson, Surrey, British Columbia Canada | Oct 26, 2008

    Excellent tips!

    I feel a great sense of accomplishment using lists, so I add the use of a White Board to my Filing System. I love crossing off or erasing my To Do List!

  • General Manager 
Bellingham, Washington 
Jim Carney
    Posted by Jim Carney, Bellingham, Washington | Oct 26, 2008

    I am constantly making notes on phone calls that require something... put this into your contacts, pay that bill, call that person back. So once a week or so I go thru all loose notes and paper and put them on 1 sheet with a priority rating of 1 2 or 3. Then each day I tackle the 1's and if they all go away I start on the 2's. At the end of the week all the items not gone go on next weeks list.

    I love finally seeing my desk again. Only 1 sheet to start out a Monday with! Sure it may have 25 items from last week but at least it is not 25 different papers and notes cluttering up my desk.

    Great tips, Thanks for sharing too how easy this is to apply at home!

  • Animal and corporate law attorney 
Bellevue, Washington 
Jean-Pierre Ruiz
    Posted by Jean-Pierre Ruiz, Bellevue, Washington | Oct 27, 2008

    Nicely done. Very tight and to the point article. I used to have the "too much paper" syndrome, but got rid of it when I implemented a filing system and every night would go through the pile and resort and, more importantly, discard what was no longer needed.

  • Certified Professional Organizer, Productivity Consultant & Productivity Trainer 
Sammamish, Washington 
Debbie Rosemont, CPO
    Posted by Debbie Rosemont, CPO, Sammamish, Washington | Oct 27, 2008

    Sierra - I believe anything you do to be more organized and productive should make your life easier, not more complicated. Simple is good :). You will conquer your paper piles - one piece, one decision, at a time. Let me know if you need any ideas or support to get or keep you going!

    Marianna - "To Do" lists work for many people, especially when they are not buried under other things. I like your whiteboard approach, as that would always be visible and can be an effective way to have a dynamic, working list. What do you like to use when you're on the go or away from your office?

    Jim - You describe a system that's worked for you to keep your desk clear and get stuff done. Applause! Having systems in place (and using them) are the key to staying organized. Keep it up!

    Jean-Pierre - The regularity with which you work to maintain your filing system and stay ahead of paper piles is admirable. We really have a couple of choices for maintenance: one is to do a little each day (minutes) or a chunck each week (30- 60 minutes) and the other is to let it pile up and then deal with the piles less frequently. The downside to the latter is that it can feel overwhelming, important things can get lost in our piles and things slip through the cracks. Your approach is great. I especially like your dedication to tossing what you can. Why spend time organizing things that don't add value to our business or our life?

    All - thank you for your comments and feedback. This is the first article I've posted to Biznik and I appreciate your input.