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Creating A Paper Management System, Step 2

Managing the backlog or why did I keep that?

Frequently, it is the backlog of paper that prevents us from creating a functioning paper management system. Instead of trying to manage the backlog while creating a new file system (an impossible task), it's easier to separate the process into three parts and tackle each one separately over an extended period of time:

Sorting the paper backlog
Creating Archives
Creating a Personal File System

Before You Start:

You will a need a large surface on which to process the backlog of paper. Borrow a 6-foot table if you don't own one or put a door on some sawhorses. This is not a permanent place to pile paper, only a paper processing area where you will conduct your sorting of the paper backlog. Because this part of the process often takes several work sessions, setting up the worktable in the basement, garage, or a room with a door is optimal.

You will also need a LARGE trashcan and heavy-duty trash bags and several cardboard boxes. You will eventually need file folders and file boxes in which you can hang files. Hold off buying these until you complete sorting the backlog.

Gather all the paper* from everywhere in the house: under the bed, on the kitchen table, tucked between cushions, 'filed' in paper bags, hidden in closets or the trunk of the car and bring it to the work table.

Note: You may not have filed paper for years. For now, just gather all that exists in your current living spaces. Ignore the paper that is in the basement or attic, unless it contains current mail.

Place 3 empty cardboard boxes on your work surface. Label one: Recycle; Label another: Retain; Label the third: Memorabilia and photos. For trash, use the trashcan. For miscellaneous doo dads i.e. cords, tools, screws, batteries, buttons, put a box under the table. Any found money is to be used to celebrate or to take the clutter buster to lunch.

*Paper: Defined as any document that might need to be reviewed, paid, signed, filed, answered, recorded, read, returned or passed on.

Backlog Sort

There is a cardinal rule in the world of paper management to never touch a piece of paper more than once. IGNORE IT during the Backlog Sort because it is only the first of several sorting steps.

The Backlog Sort should be done at a fast pace. Pick up a pile of paper. As you go through the pile, toss all junk mail, old newspapers, coupons, old unopened bills, old phone messages, all those business cards you never filed, clippings from the newspaper, unsent Christmas cards, old Christmas cards etc. into the Recycle box.

Do not agonize. Do not stop to read anything. Do not stop to open old bills. Check the postmark and if it's an old bill, recycle. When in doubt, toss it out.

Put in the Retain box, items related to the following topics:

health, medical, prescriptions
monthly bills
receipts for large ticket items
invoices related to cost basis on your home
current homework, permission slips
current appointment reminders
uncashed checks
vet bills

In the Memorabilia/Photos box place items you want to save for yourself or other members of your family i.e. report cards, the first project for history class, a special card.

Continue this process until all the backlog paper has been sorted into the three categories. This may take several days, weeks, or months. The Backlog accumulated over a period of time; it will also take time to sort it all.

At the end of each work session, remove the boxes labeled Recycle from the room. If you want to shred the Recycling, set it aside until you are ready to take it to a shredding facility. Take out the Trash. Congratulate yourself.



While you are working on sorting the backlog of paper, you are still responsible for paying the current bills, signing permission slips and keeping track of your medical appointments.