Tips for Organizing the Mail

You have heard the phrase touch it once when time management gurus talk about organizing and handling paper. Do you know what that means? Many people think you must pick up a paper and act on it immediately.

But actually, a better procedure is to take the paper, decide what to do with it (SHRED/TOSS, ACT, FILE, or PENDING).  Really, the idea of “touch it once” means touch each paper once when moving it to the next stage, instead of moving a piece of paper back and forth across your desk, putting off deciding what to do with it.  Paper clutter is made from postponed decisions.

Let’s practice this concept by making decisions using the mail.

(Bonus tip: Don’t open your mail in the kitchen; papers tend to get lost and dirty. Open it by the trash can in your office. This way you can act on each piece without having to walk through the house.)

• The first item in the mail stack is an invitation to the Verizon store grand opening. Decide: Do you want to go? Well, since you are at the beginning of your contract with Sprint, probably not. So TOSS it. Feel free to also toss or shred all junk mail.

• Then, you open an invitation to a baby shower. Decide: Are you going to go or just send a gift? You decide to go.

  • So now you need to ACT.
    • Send a quick email to confirm your attendance.
    • Mark the date in your calendar.
    • Make a note to purchase a gift.
    • Put the invitation in the PENDING file, so you have the directions handy when you go. (Bonus Tip: A pending file can be a file folder on your desk, a tickler file near the phone, or a large manila envelope you keep in your briefcase. Whatever works for you.)

• Next, you open the electric bill. Decide: Do you need to keep your electricity? You choose yes, so you will need to pay it.

  • Put it in the PENDING file and make a note of the due date in your calendar.
  • (Bonus Tip: Many people pay bills once or twice a month, if this is the case, you can still put the bill in the PENDING file, but make sure you have the date(s) marked that are bill pay days in your calendar. Some people also have a BILL PAY folder. Again, use whatever system works for you.)

• Whew, almost through the pile. The last item is an EOB from the insurance company. Decide: Do I need to ACT on this? Not really, but you will need to reference it at a later date when the bill comes from the ER (that you had to visit when a pile of papers fell and hit you on the head).

  • So, for now you need to FILE the document. Either put it in folder that says “FILE” or actually file it. (HUGE BONUS TIP: I recommend filing it immediately, since if you put it in a folder “to file” you’ll probably just start another pile of papers.)

Touching each paper that comes into your space once when moving it to it’s next stage is a crucial action to keep (or obtain) a clutter-free paper environment.  Often, we look at a paper, think “I’m not sure what I want to do with this” and place it back in the pile.  Then, a week (or month) later, we go through the same process.  When you can train yourself to DECIDE the next step for each paper – you will become much more efficient.

What works for you when handling paper?  Where are your challenges?  Where else would the myth of “touch it once” apply?  I’d love to know – please post below!


(Image by Nuttakit)