Developing a regular paper processing routine is the only way to truly conquer home office paper clutter. Today, I’m taking you through a basic paper processing routine that you can tweak and make your own and sharing a few of my favorite tools for making your paper processing routine easier!
How to Develop a Paper Processing Routine
Welcome back to the Organize Your Files Week series!
Although, Organize Your Files Week is technically over, we’re continuing our quest of conquering home office paper clutter once and for all!
How are you doing with the challenges? Is your paper clutter shrinking and your home office becoming more organized?
If you’re just joining us, welcome! It’s never too late to jump into Organize Your Files Week! Start here, then follow the series’ links at the bottom of each post. Take the challenges one at a time until you can kiss paper clutter buh-bye!
We’ve been busy during this series! So far, we’ve gathered and sorted our papers, created Action Files, constructed file names that work, set up a functional and organized file drawer, and talked about The File Index.
Hopefully, you’re seeing the rewards of your effort in the form of less paper clutter and a more organized home office.
Today is the LAST post in this series, but it’s one of the most important posts so far!
Developing a paper processing routine is the only way to truly conquer paper clutter. Paper will likely always be in our lives, so we have to create a regular routine for dealing with it. This will help to keep piles away and keep you, your home office, and your filing system organized.
So, let’s start by talking about a basic paper processing routine and a couple of tools that will make it easier!
Necessary Tools for the Basic Paper Processing Routine
There are a couple of tools that, when put in place, will help to make your basic paper processing routine easier to manage and much more effective.
Home Office Inbox
The first thing you need for your paper processing routine is a catch-all-the-papers filter.
The easiest way to create this filter is to start using a home office inbox. Tell your spouse and your kids (if they’re old enough) that ALL papers for you go into the inbox and remind them as necessary.
Now, you control the flow of information and papers into your home office! Plus, you can avoid piles taking over your desk and review the info coming into your home office.
Want to start using a home office inbox today? Check out these 5 Easy Ways to Set Up a Home Office Inbox.
The other tools that will help to make your paper processing system manageable and effective are Action Files.
Action files (also called current files) hold any papers that require your attention or that require you to do something. That could include a proposal request that needs fulfilled, a report that needs written, or papers associated with an in-progress project.
If you’ve been following along with Organize Your Files Week, you already have your Action Files set up and filled with action items.
If you haven’t yet created Action Files for your home office, click on over to this post to get started using these helpful tools: How to Use Action Files to Manage To-Do’s.
Or better yet, start at the beginning of this series (Conquer Home Office Paper Clutter) and eliminate your paper clutter once and for all!
The Basic Paper Processing Routine
Now, you have the tools in place that will help you manage paper clutter and complete your paper processing routine more easily. So, let’s talk about how to develop a paper processing routine.
These are the steps in a basic paper processing routine:
- Clear Your Home Office Inbox
- Process Action File Items
- [Draft Next Day’s To-Do List]
- Clear Your Desk for the Next Day.
I go into more detail for each step below.
Although it’s not technically part of my paper processing routine, I included the step for drafting a to-do list for the next day, so that you get a feel for how my routine flows.
I like to complete my paper processing routine at the end of each work day. That way my inbox, action files, and desk are all cleared, organized, and ready for the next day!
Step #1: Sort Your Inbox Daily
You’ve set up an inbox so all of the papers coming into your home office are in one place and not strewn all over your desk (yay!).
Now, we need to set a regular time to sort through those papers.
Daily is best. That way you never miss something important!
At the end of each workday, set a timer for 5-10 minutes and sort through the items in your inbox.
- Take care of anything that is needed for the next day like kids’ school forms that require a signature.
- Add any items that require action to the applicable Action File (learn how to use Action Files to manage your to-do’s HERE).
- File items that have a future deadline in your Tickler File, if you choose to use one (learn more about how to get organized with a Tickler File HERE).
- Add items that need to be filed to your “To File” Action Folder.
Process every item in your inbox, so that it’s empty and ready for the next day!
Step #2: Process and Review Action File Items
The key to making Action Files work for you is to actually look at and process the items in them!
Schedule a regular time each day to tackle the items in your Action Files.
I like to take a look at my Action Files in the morning and make any necessary notes on that day’s to-do list.
Then, either after lunch or at the end of the day (or both, if I have time), I set a timer for 10-15 minutes and and process the items in my Action Files.
I make phone calls, send emails, write letters, plan projects, complete paperwork, and any other tasks that the items in my Action Files require. I don’t always finish the task, but I try to at least move it forward by taking the NEXT step.
Once my timer goes off, I quickly look through the remaining items in my Action Files, prioritize them, and put them away until the next day.
Step #3: File
Depending on how you have your Action Files set up, filing may fall under the step above. But, it’s an important part of your paper processing routine, so I’m mentioning it here as well.
If you don’t have a “To File” Action Folder, then spend some time filing papers after you’ve worked on your Action Files.
Again, set your timer for 5-15 minutes and file any items in your To File bin, file, or basket.
Some people do this daily and others do it once per week during that day’s regular paper processing routine, say on Mondays. The frequency will depend on the number of items that build up in your To File bin.
Ideally, you want to get through this step in less than 5 minutes, so use that as a guide when deciding on the frequency for your filing.
Step #4: Draft Next Day’s Task List
At this point in my daily routine I create my task list for the next day.
Although it’s not technically part of the paper processing routine, I’m including it here because it naturally flows into this routine.
I check my calendar, my master task lists, weekly plan (in Trello), and my action files for any items that need to be completed tomorrow and create my to do list for the next day.
For to-do list tips, check out this post: How to Write a Better To-Do List and Actually Get Your To-Do’s DONE!
Step #5: Clear Your Desk
Again, this step isn’t technically part of the paper processing routine, but I’m including it so you can see how this system “flows.”
Once I’ve sorted my inbox, processed and reviewed my action files, filed papers, and created my to do list for the next day, I clear my desk. This simple task helps me to start my workday in the best way possible, and it keeps me from wasting valuable business building time sorting through clutter from the previous day’s work.
Learn more about this powerful task in this post: 3 Super Simple Ways to Organize Your Office TODAY!
You can also join the 7-Day Office Organization Challenge to whip your office and paper clutter into shape!
Complete a Regular Filing System “Tune Up”
There’s one final step in the basic paper processing routine, and that’s the filing system “tune up.”
It’s just what it sounds like: a declutter and clean up of your filing system.
A filing system tune up is completed quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. This is a wonderful precursor to tax season (quarterly or annually) and the new year (annually).
You’ll want to set aside an hour or two to complete this step.
- Review your file index, your files, and the items in each folder.
- Declutter old or unnecessary folders.
- Recycle or shred any outdated or unnecessary items.
- Replace any bent, broken, or ripped hanging folders, interior folders, or labels.
- Review your file names.
- Reorganize folders, if necessary.
- Update your File Index.
* If you have a large filing system with a significant number of folders, you may want to break this down and do specific sections each quarter.
It’s such a wonderful feeling to know that your filing system is cleaned out, decluttered, organized, and ready for the next few months or the new year!
How to Develop a Paper Processing Routine
Now you have the steps required for a basic paper processing routine and the tools that will make this routine easier.
Set an alarm for the end of each work day, then spend a few minutes completing each step in this routine to keep paper clutter at bay!
When completed on a regular basis—daily or weekly—your paper processing routine will help you to truly conquer the paper clutter in your office, keep piles away, and keep you, your office, and your filing system organized!
Other Posts in the Organize Your Files Week Series
Today’s post is the final post in the Organize Your Files Week Series!
Be sure to check out the other posts in the series:
Develop a Paper Processing Routine
If you enjoyed today’s post, you might find these additional, related posts helpful:
- 3 Essential Routines for Home Office Organization
- Printable Decorative File Labels
- How to Build Strong and Lasting Business Routines
And keep your organization momentum going by joining the 7-Day Office Organization Challenge!
Each day for 7 days, we’ll tackle one office trouble spot, get it decluttered and organized, and create processes (habits & routines) to KEEP it that way. Complete the challenge and take back your work space, beat overwhelm, and make the most of your business building time. Join HERE!
Don’t forget to pin it!
Thanks for joining me for Organize Your Files Week!
Here’s to conquering paper clutter and taking back our home offices and productivity! 🙂
Join the Office Organization Challenge!
Each day for 7 days, we'll tackle one office trouble spot, get it decluttered and organized, and create processes to KEEP it that way!
Take back your work space, beat overwhelm, and make the most of your business building time!