File Under “f” for Fun: Tips For Sorting Paperwork



So you are ready to tackle those mounds of papers that are falling off your desk and filling up your drawers! YES! I know the road to success seems far away, but rest assured, with a plan of attack and some realistic, attainable, goals AND a new plan for the future, piles of papers will be a distant memory.


The first thing you should do that will help set you up for success is to gather some basic office supplies. I recommend the following:

  • Box of manila file folders

  • Box of hanging files

  • File cabinet or box

  • Color-coded file tabs

  • Label Maker

  • Envelopes

  • Stapler

  • Shredder

But don’t let not having all these items stop you from getting the job done. The real result comes from the process. It is a process that I have relied on for years and it has never failed to get me through deep stacks of all types of paperwork in a very efficient and, dare I say, fun, manner.

The process isn’t complicated. It relies on the POWER of the SORT. You want to read through your papers as quickly as possible, scan really, just enough to be able to sort them into categories. In breaking down that large pile into smaller piles, the decisions on what to do with it become much less overwhelming. And perhaps more importantly, easier to manage.


Step One: create categories and sub-categories

Step Two: sort papers into those piles. No need to get fancy. Just use post it notes to label each pile. I would avoid making too many categories though. It will just slow down your sort. Don’t overthink it :)

Step Three: purge and put-away (or scan). As you going through your papers don’t be afraid to toss as much as you can. Anything that is duplicate, outdated, expired, or you can find online can all go. Be real with what your time schedule is. If you haven’t had time to read those catalogs yet, are you ever?

Once you have everything sorted down to what you really need to keep, and organized into piles, I think there are some important questions you should ask yourself that will help you establish your long-term paperwork management process. Questions like:

Where are my files going to be stored?

How much time (per day or per week) do I have to work on sorting my paperwork?

What habits can I implement to keep my paperwork manageable?

Can I pass the "find it" test?

This last question is my favorite, the “Can I find it test.” Once you have everything put away, and as finished as you think it needs to be, pretend you need to go find something. It could be an invoice, a report, an insurance statement. If it takes you longer than a few minutes, or, several attempts to find where you have filed it, I highly encourage you to reevaluate your filing system. What I like about this test is it somewhat forces you to reverse engineer your process. Because at the end of the day, the goal is to have all our papers in places that can be logically archived (filed) and easy to access.

This goes for your digital file system as well. If you have taken the gold star step of electronically scanning your papers, how you file them in folders in your computer or on the cloud should be equally as easy to search.

I’ve come to realize that like other certainties in the life of a tidy house (laundry that never ends, a sink full of dishes that is never empty), paperwork will always flow in and out of your home and office— even if it is just in through the mailbox and out through the recycle bin.

Having a plan doesn’t makes it the paper stop coming, but it sure makes it easier to deal with.

Happy sorting.