My proven method for taming your paperwork

With tax season upon us, you’re likely sorting through files and stacks in search for the documents and forms necessary to prepare your return.

Ah, the dreaded files and piles. Do they ever end?

As you dig through them, some familiar chatter might come up:

  • Why did I keep this again?
  • Why aren’t all my tax documents in one place?
  • Do I have everything I need?
  • This desk is a mess!
  • I’m getting this all organized so next year it’ll be easier.

So how, whether it has gotten completely out of hand or you have a small, stubborn pile, do you get back in charge of the situation? Check this out.

Once you have resigned to the fact that your paperwork needs handling, take a seat. You are about to do my tried and true method for sorting paperwork even when you are resisting it BIG time.

  1. Choose one stack, box, bin, or folder.
  2. Sort the contents into two piles and two piles only:
    • Keep
    • Recycle/Shred
  3. Anytime you’re distracted by reading one of the papers or figuring out if you still need it, STOP and put it in the Keep pile.
  4. Once you have your two piles, get rid of the recycle/shred pile right away. Do what you gotta do to make it happen!
  5. Take a minute and revel in your success! You cleared some stuff!
  6. If this is all you have in you for now, it’s all good. Wrap it up by scheduling the next time you’ll continue.
  7. Next round: Sort your Keep pile into three categories:
    • File: this is exactly what you’re thinking. Anything you know for certain that you need to keep goes into this pile.
    • Follow up: With these papers, the ball is in your court. Progress is dependent on a next move by you.
    • Figure out: This stack includes anything you don’t have a clue what to do with. You don’t know if it’s a “file” or “follow up.” You don’t even know what the heck the next step is! It’s OK. Into this pile it goes.
  8. Take another minute and revel in your success once again. Woo hoo! You are owning these papers!
  9. If this is all you have in you for now, that’s cool. Wrap up by scheduling your next round.
  10. To go through each of the three categories, particularly if they’re hefty, use the trusty Pomodoro technique: one of my fave productivity tools. Choose which category you’ll start with. There’s no right answer here. Pick the one you resist the least.
    • To make your filing more fun (or maybe this is just my geeky self), use a label maker to name files. (Here’s a handy, affordable one I like.) It makes everything look so pretty and easy to use.
    • When tackling your “Follow Up” category, an easy way to start is to write your next step on the page itself. Go through this pile and identify what move of yours it’s waiting on.
    • With the Figure Out stack, write the question you have about any particular sheet at the top of it. Things like “Do I need to keep this? Ask accountant,” or “What does this even mean? Ask Google.”

POM round by POM round, keep chipping away. When you get through any backlog, use this approach to maintain order as much as possible.

This is an awesome way to get things cleaned up, and a great way to feel more in charge of your life. Paperwork represents some serious “adulting” because it’s often made up of taxes, insurance policies, divorce papers, paychecks, passports, bills, credit card statements, etc. When it piles up and gets away from you, it can make you feel small, incapable, and less than — not the way you want to feel around your finances and personal and professional success.

I taught this method to the trailblazers in my membership community in our webinar last week as this month’s focus is the home office/paperwork. Some were shaky when they came across divorce papers and had to face the pain of a past relationship while others were tentative to complete the final stages of their deceased parents’ estates. This awesome group held space for them and cheered them on as they did it.

I always giggle to myself when I’m asked if I help people “organize closets.” It’s such a cute question because while that may be how they find me, they are in for a wild, life-changing ride. Sort papers? Sure. Become an empowered, trailblazing warrior in every area of your life as a result? Yup!

So whatcha waiting for? Get going on your Keep/Recycle piles and let me know how it’s rockin’ your world, good, bad, or otherwise!

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