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Overwhelmed by Paperwork Clutter? Here’s 9 Easy Steps to a Clean and Productive Home or Office

Follow these simple steps to make paperwork decluttering quick and easy.

As a small business owner with a busy family life, I tend to make revenue-generating work my priority, so I’m a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to decluttering my home and office. BUT I also love how it feels to actually clear these stacks of old receipts, project notes, old tax returns etc. so that I can work in a calm and clean work space because I’ve noticed that when I’m in a clutter-free, ‘Zen’ zone I am also more productive and get more work done.

To make paperwork decluttering easier, I developed a plan to make it less overwhelming, faster, and more efficient. I’ve found this to be a foolproof guide to reduce documents and related clutter in just a few hours—rather than days.

Step 1: Make an Appointment with Yourself

Block out time on your calendar for your decluttering session. I suggest a half-day block towards the end of the week. Or a rainy Sunday afternoon. Pick a time when you’re not going to be bothered by phone calls, emails, or family responsibilities.

  • Block out the time your calendar
  • Turn off or silence your phone and check out of your email
  • If you have employees or work with others, let them know that this is your “do not disturb” time. Or better yet, get them to declutter at the same time

Step 2: The Three Stacks Method.

Now, first thing, you’re going to create 3 stacks, or piles of paper and documents that...

  • …you’re definitely throwing out,
  • …you’re keeping, and, lastly,
  • …things you’re unsure

Create these heaps or stacks in old cardboard boxes or against a wall labelled with a Post It note label on the side, “Keeping, Unsure, Get Rid” etc. You get the idea.

PRO TIP: DO NOT go out and buy storage containers or filing supplies. Do this afterward if you really need to but remember the idea is to reduce the amount of stuff you have! Don’t get seduced to buy new stuff thinking it will help you get organised. Wait until you’re done to see if you still need that new filing cabinet.

Step 3: Watch out for the “rabbit hole”!

As you dive into your old paperwork the biggest risk you face is “going down the rabbit hole”. This is where the real discipline comes in: don’t get distracted!

It’s that moment when you’re sorting through your papers efficiently and all of a sudden something catches your attention and you stop your decluttering project. Your challenge here is to pick a stack to put it into and keep moving.

PRO-TIP: One tactic I use to avoid distraction is to set my phone timer for 55 minutes. During that time, I make a commitment to focus solely on decluttering my paperwork. Then when my alarm goes off, I can have a 15-minute break for a cup of tea. Then I come back and set the timer again. The goal is to focus on decluttering in 45-55-minute increments—about the length of a typical adult attention span.

Step 4: Things you’re definitely getting rid of.

I want you to make stack no. 1 your top priority: the things you’re definitely getting rid of. This is my favourite because it’s the one that will help you feel like you’re making progress fast. This stack may even have 2 sub-stacks: things you can recycle and things you deem as rubbish. Most of your recycling stack will be probably be paper-related material such as documents and random bits of paper.

At the end of each 45-55 minute increment of time, feel free to clean out this stack. You’ll get that immediate hit of glowing achievement!

Your paper-related waste—especially confidential documents—will need to go into some kind of secure document destruction facility. We DO NOT recommend buying a cheap shredding machine at your local office supplies store. This is because these machines use a fairly basic kind of shredding called ‘strip cut shredding’ that may actually be hacked by identity thieves. We recommend using a ‘crosscut’ shredding method that is used by accredited and secure shredding services.

If you have e-waste such as old hard drives, USB drives, CDRs or digital cameras (remember those?) etc. or old mobile phones, we recommend our e-Waste Destruction service.

PRO-TIP: For secure document destruction, we recommend Bag-N-Shred for an affordable and environmentally-friendly way to destroy your confidential documents via Australia Post. It’s affordable (only $19.90 for up to 5 kgs of documents—about 1,000 sheets of A4 paper!), uses the crosscut method mentioned above, and you won’t have to buy a bulky paper shredder to clutter up your office further. You’ll also get a Certificate of Destruction for no additional cost to ensure peace of mind. Read more about Bag-N-Shred here.

Steps 5 & 6: Things you’re definitely keeping and / or unsure of.

There may be some cross over between these two stacks and you may want to review either one before finishing. Don’t worry too much about your “Unsure” pile for the moment (this pile is probably loaded with potential rabbit holes and remember what I said about those?)

PRO-TIP: My advice as you go through these two stacks is to be absolutely ruthless and ask yourself: “Do I really need to keep this?”

Step 7: Your ‘Unsure’ Stack.

By now, do you still have anything in your “Unsure” of stack? If so, it’s okay. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself because it may have to wait for another day. But hopefully this is a very small stack of papers.

Label it “Unsure” and put it into a filing box or drawer to review during your next decluttering session.

Step 8: File your ‘Keeping’ stack

When the ‘Keeping’ pile is ready, file it away into your filing cabinet or scan into a digital format for storage. In this pile you’ll probably have important tax documents that are younger than 5-7 years etc., warranties, contracts, etc.

Step 9: Clean & Relax.

At this point your workspace may actually need a bit of a clean and tidy. You may want to ask your cleaners to give your space an extra clean, or if you DIY, roll those sleeves up wipe down surfaces, dust and vacuum. You know the drill.

You’re all done! Now pat yourself on the back and go out and have fun with your family and friends knowing that your home or office is clean and decluttered and ready for new challenges and increased productivity.

It has been my pleasure and indeed a privilege to conduct business with Alex and his Corporate Document Destruction service He has been most cooperative and discreet when certain requirements were necessary, both in my Dental Profession and my AFL administrative life. But more than that he has become a member of our team with his very pleasing and warm personality.

Our circumstances have changed, but wherever the future takes us we will use every endeavour to recommend his services to other business clients who may be seeking new fields.

Dr. Allen Aylett OBE
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