Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Make Peace with Paper

guest blog by Kacy Paide

As a professional office organizer, three words make me cringe: “File, don’t pile.” This is certainly a good idea, but it’s just that: an idea, not to be mistaken for solid, specific advice. How many times have you read those words and screamed inside, “I know I should file, I just don’t know how!”

Organizing advice should motivate and inspire, leaving you anxious to try something new, not feeling guilty that you haven’t yet been able to execute something so seemingly simple. An organized space cannot arise from feelings of inadequacy or a list of shoulds. The best of intentions gets buried when you don’t know how to do something, and paper organizing is no exception.

Look around your office. Do you see piles, stashes, overflowing in boxes, bags of paper, half-executed systems and remnants of good ideas? If so, you are not alone. My clients are sometimes surprised (and always relieved) that I encourage them to ditch the filing cabinet and think way outside of the box.

Your goal needn’t be to keep a clear desk. In fact, it should be the opposite: Cover your surfaces, just cover them with systems, not clutter. How do you file when you hate file folders and filing cabinets? How do you keep a clear desk when you lose anything that is in a cabinet or drawer? Here's how.

1. Use clipboards for active projects. These are especially helpful in organizing writing projects, upcoming trips and events, bills to pay, and more. Use them also as idea buckets, assigning one per project, collecting all related media—be it note scraps, stickies, tear-outs, or printouts. An added benefit is that clipboards are mobile, not married to the wall. Carry them to another room or take them to work--just remember to return them to their station on the wall.

2. Fill the desk with file boxes.  I’d rather see empty file drawers and a desk full of file boxes than orderly drawers that are useless and forgotten. This works especially well for paper-heavy current projects that you pull from or add to frequently.

3. Turn your bookcase into an open filing system.
Fill the bookshelves with file boxes. Boxes encourage you to create tight categories, drawing lines in the sand in a way that a deep file drawer can’t do. Shelves allow you to see all categories at quick glance, taking the mystery out of “what lurks in my file drawers.”

4. File on the wall. Use wall pockets just as you would file boxes. If one works, five or ten might work even better.

5. Ditch folders for magazine boxes. Convert your bookshelf into a tower of magazine files, each assigned a category.

An organized office should be a reflection of your best version of you. Sure, you may feel unfocused and scattered at times. This is not a complete picture though. At your best, you are creative, fast-thinking and expressive. Any of these suggestions, multiplied across the surfaces in your office will allow you to simultaneously thrive and live outside the lines.

Life will inevitably shake itself out all over your desk, but everything now has a home. You can see these places without opening a drawer or recalling a complicated file index. Revisiting order will take minutes, not months, and peace of mind will return just as quickly.

A longer version of this post appeared in the October 2014 issue of
Attention. The magazine is available through our free app, which you can download on the App store! Current CHADD members can access it through the app at no extra cost.

Kacy Paide (theinspiredoffice.com) is a professional organizer specializing in offices and paper. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and consults and speaks nationally.