Piles of Paper – Friend or Foe?

There are many different kinds of filing systems and one of the most common is piles. Piles of paper that is. Look around your office or desktop (real or computer) now – do you have piles? Do you know what is in them? Can you, with your hand on your heart, say that you can find anything you want? If not, then read on.

As I look around me now, I see 3 very neat piles in a filing tray. I know what these are – the bottom one is for papers I’ve attended to and are waiting to be filed in the filing cabinet. The middle one is for papers that I call ‘Pending’, ie those things that I think would be ‘A Good Idea’ to get around to doing. Every so often I go through this pile and sort it all into other piles, with quite a lot going into the bin. Then the top section of the filing tray is filled (apparently) with things to be done right now. Except that my preferred place for these things is sitting on my desk itself next to my left hand. Often I know what is in these piles, and can lay my hands on them immediately. However, if they get too big, they overwhelm me and I begin to forget what is there and then it’ s easy to start to worry. So I regularly have clear outs – especially just before holidays.

Now my system works quite well for me. Yours probably works well for you too, whatever it is. But I know there are other people who just get into a terrible dither. Here’ s a few different sorts of people from my experience:

Dithery Dorothy

Dithery Dorothy finds it impossible to make decisions about what to do with bits of paper. Hence her office and sometimes the whole of her house is filled with odd pieces of paper, half-filled filing boxes, partly organised A4 lever files. Piles stack up on the floor, on odd chairs, and certainly on the desk. It’ s not uncommon for Dithery Dorothys to step over stuff on the floor, even while feeling distressed that everything is in a muddle. In my second job I worked with someone like this, whose whole system was based on having files stacked around his working area on the desk, which ended up being about a square foot. Anything that couldn’t fit any longer on the piles on the desk migrated to the floor to start yet another pile which he then regularly stepped over! 

Solution: employ someone who loves organising others to set up a system for you, and teach you how to operate it. Ask them to give you tips on how to make decisions while you’re at it!

Neat Freak Nancy

This person is the opposite and has an empty desk. Pencils sharpened and in a pot; plenty of space around the computer; no papers to clutter up the space at all. She has a system, and not only a system but one that is in actual operation! No half-filled files and boxes for Neat Freak Nancy – her matching bookcases will not only have several files of the same colour, but will have matching labels, and books arranged according to size. Everything looks neat and tidy, and Nancy takes great pride in being able to lay a hand immediately on whatever is required. Plus, she gets great pleasure from how her office looks when she opens the door. The downside? Disastrous consequences if someone else tries to operate her system; or on the odd day when the system has broken down, and Neat Freak Nancy’s anxiety levels hit the roof. 

Solution: experiment with mess. Scatter some papers around; leave a pile on the floor; notice how it makes you feel. Choose to let go of the feelings, and invite in balance so that it’s not the end of the world if something is out of place sometimes.

Paperless Penny

Paperless Penny is just that, paperless. Often because she is travelling a lot, she is an extension of Nancy, but her office space is in her suitcase.  And needless to say, her suitcase is packed perfectly, with not an ounce of space wasted. All her work, notes, information, emails, everything is done on line or stored in the vast filing cabinet on her computer, where needless to say, she has a clear desktop. She takes action immediately when filing is required, as to operate her paperless office she needs to be diligent in having a clear desktop and a smooth-running system. She may or may not have one or several virtual assistants to help her manage. Her downside?  Challenges arise if her luggage goes missing on her travels; uncertain internet connections can produce a ‘locked office’; no-one else is able to operate her system; and of course, power outage or system failure.

Solution: have 2 back up systems in place and operate them regularly, or have it happen automatically. Keep a list of all important and essential information on paper with a trusted friend or family member.

Dutiful Derek

Dutiful Derek knows that he should have a good administration system; he knows that efficient systems are the hallmark of a successful person; he often even has a system in the first place. But because it is a duty to file and order things, and not a joy, Dutiful Derek ends up with piles. Piles of stuff waiting to be filed, piles of research notes, piles of home stuff to be dealt with, piles to do with the bank; piles of marketing information; piles of things that will be useful one day – just loads of piles. As opposed to Dithery Dorothy, he doesn’t have lots of pieces of paper flying around – no, because they all belong in a pile and are tidied away into one of them (not always the right one). The downside? Dutiful Derek often feels bad about himself because he knows he ‘should’ be doing it better; he gets bothered about so many piles but never gets around to doing anything about them; he finds it difficult to find missing information.

Solution: release the judgments about being less than, and invite in appreciation of what you do do, not what you don’t. Relish the fact that you have a system at all, and invite yourself to let go of anything you don’t use regularly or find beautiful.

It may be that one of these personalities will strike a bell with you, or it maybe that you find you identify with more than one of them. Either way, there is a secret which you need to know about, and her name is Organised Olivia.

Organised Olivia loves to set up and operate a system. No matter where she is, she will see immediately what kind of system would work best, and how to put it into place. What’s more she likes using the system too.  She delights in labelling, filing, and sorting, and positively loves making decisions and taking actions on things that need to be done. It goes without saying that she nearly always can find what she’ s looking for, as she keeps up to date with her filing.

Here’ s the really good news: if you are not an Organised Olivia, you can employ one! I highly recommend finding someone to set up and show you how to use a filing system if you don’t already have one that works well for you. Not only will it clear your desk (and maybe your floor), it will clear your mind too!

3 thoughts on “Piles of Paper – Friend or Foe?

  1. Excellent and the very interesting idea for me is the one about finding someone to set up and show me how to use a filing system. I do have one and am not too bad at knowing where things are but could do with help on knowing how to set up the best possible one for my work and all its various parts!
    Can you suggest where you find people who do this work – where would I look?
    Wishing you a wonderful holiday Jane.

    • Hi Gill

      I think people who normally do ‘decluttering’ courses would be good on this – or at least they should be! I don’t have someone I can recommend but you could google for decluttering in your area, or Feng Shui too, as sometimes practitioners of that will include office organisation too.

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