Establish an Information Management System to Control Paper Clutter

All kinds of information enters a home on any given day: junk mail, advertisements, bills, invitations, fliers, announcements, sports schedules, brochures, magazines, newspapers, correspondence…the list goes on and on. 

A great way to control the paper clutter that bombards your home is to establish an information management system. Such a system is easy to create and maintain. 

The key to successful information management is to have a method in place for dealing with each piece of paper as soon as it enters your home

A Two Step Process

Having a system for processing paper doesn’t necessarily mean you have to finalize action on each and every item the moment it crosses your threshold.  A good information management system usually involves a two-step process: initial action followed by resolution. 

Initial action should be taken on each item as you encounter it (and simply adding it to the precarious pile on the kitchen counter does not constitute action). 

Resolution can take place immediately or in several days or even weeks depending on the nature of the task and the 'due date' associated with it. 

Guidelines for choosing an information management system

When it comes to establishing an information management system, I recommend some type of filing system that allows you to sort papers into appropriate action categories for eventual resolution. 

The types of files you include in your system will depend on your specific needs.  Choose categories that make sense to you.

Here are some examples of action categories you might include in your filing system:

  • To Pay (bills)
  • To File (items you want to keep for reference purposes)
  • To Read (magazines and other printed materials you plan to peruse when you have time)
  • To Do (items which require action such as responding to an invitation or filling out a form). 
  • On Hold (items for which you are awaiting some bit of information, action or response before you can move forward).

As items enter your home, you will need to make a determination as to where they belong. As you place things in the appropriate category, be sure to put them in the order in which they need to be addressed with the most urgent at the front and the least urgent at the back.  

As you file new items, be sure to check the items already in the folders to see if any action is required. This should only take a couple of minutes every day or two to review. Doing so will prevent you from falling victim to the 'out of sight, out of mind' phenomenon, so it's well worth the effort. 

If you don't trust yourself to check the contents of your files consistently, I highly recommend utilizing the reminder app on your cell phone.

Before adding an item to your information management system, set up a reminder in your cell phone for the date on which you will need to take action. 

components of a good system

A good information management system requires a little planning in order to operate efficiently. 

You can set yourself up for success by limiting the number of steps required to complete the tasks involved in 'processing' papers.  

Ideally, everything that is needed for initial action and resolution should be stored together in the location where you plan to do your processing.  This includes:

  • Some type of paper sorter – this can be actual files in a file box, a wall-mounted file sorter, or a paper stacker with the correct number of trays to meet your needs.
  • Paper shredder – 

If you don’t have a paper shredder, you might want to include a ‘To Destroy’ file in your sorting system.  It sounds ominous, I know, but it does serve an important purpose. 

This is where credit card applications and any other documents containing sensitive personal or financial information should go until you are able to deal with them in a secure fashion.

Below you'll see an example of an affordable paper shredder*. Having one on hand is not only convenient, it also helps you to maintain your information management system by making it easy to dispose of papers containing sensitive information - thus preventing further paper build-up! 

Additional Items:

  • Recycle bin
  • Letter opener
  • Stapler
  • Pens
  • Scissors
  • Envelopes & stamps
  • Address labels
  • Checkbook
  • Internet access

*affiliate link

utilizing your information management system

Once you have set up your information management system, it’s time to put it to work.

  • Make a habit of sorting through the mail, your kids’ backpacks, and any other sources of paper each day. This can either be done as soon as these items arrive or at a designated time each day.  

It may sound tedious to tackle this task daily, but you will actually save yourself a lot of time and frustration by adopting this practice.  In reality, it only takes a couple of minutes to identify what you’re looking at and decide where it belongs. 

  • Immediately place junk mail and advertisements in the recycle bin. 
  • Remove anything containing sensitive information that needs to be destroyed. If you have a shredder, shred these items immediately.
  • File anything that doesn’t require immediate action in the appropriate place (to pay, to read, to do, etc.). 
  • Take immediate action where necessary (permission slips, etc.).

As you place new items into your paper sorting system, glance at what’s already there and take action to resolve the various items as needed. 

If you cannot find the time each day to implement the above steps, aim for every other day.  If that still seems impossible, set aside a specific time each week for information management. 

Keep in mind, the more time that passes between paper processing sessions, the longer it will take each time to sort through things and take the necessary actions.

By following these steps each day, you can successfully manage the barrage of information that bombards you.  Keep one step ahead of paper clutter with a customized information management system. 

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