Friday 5 September 2008

How to keep on top of household filing in one minute a day

OK, let's get one thing straight.  If your household paperwork is already a disaster zone, one minute a day isn't going to help much.  If that's you, first you need to see my earlier post One day (yes, really) to clear your home paperwork backlog forever.  When you've invested that one day, one minute a day is really all you need to keep things in order.
Because we're only talking about a minute's worth of work here, this is going to be a somewhat shorter post.
Ideally you already have the best possible conditions for success:
  • Hopefully your day-to-day filing system is within arm's reach of the place where you deal with your post.
  • Even better is if you can keep your paper recycling bin, box or tray also within arms reach to deal with envelopes, junk mail and other rubbish.  The security-conscious might also have a shredding tray, or even keep the shredder close by to deal with unwanted confidential items as they appear.
  • Spare square-cut folders and your labelling machine should be not too far away for those occasional days when you realise you have a new filing category.  Never put off filing because you don't have the right file!  In fact, never put off filing, full stop.  Unless maybe the house is on fire, or a family member is choking on a pretzel or something.
  • Any 'projects' filing, or folders for categories big enough that they don't fit in the day-to-day filing box also need to be at your fingertips.  (Tucked behind the filing box works for me.)
And here's how you spend your one minute a day:
  • If something is obviously junk mail, bin it (or put it in the shredding tray) straight away
  • Open the rest of your mail - I keep a nice letter opening knife near my filing box for this - and work out which items need to be dealt with, and which are just for reference to file away
  • Put your 'to-do' items in your 'to-do' place - for me this is my desk at the weekends, or on weekdays a folder I carry to work so I can deal with things on the train
  • File everything else in your day-to-day filing box
That's it!
For this to become a habit, it's best if you can get into dealing with the post at the same time each day, or in response to a certain daily trigger, for instance at breakfast, or after you've taken the dog for a walk.  Apparently our brains are good at forming new habits when they're anchored to existing ones.
As for how to deal with the 'to-do' items, this is where I'll refer you back to Getting Things Done by David Allen who has plenty of excellent, detailed and practical advice on the topic.
My next post will be on how you can do your paperwork housekeeping in just one hour a year.

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