Managing paperwork
Keeping your desk under control when running a home-based business can become a nightmare. Here’s how to minimise clutter.
By Tracey Foulkes

Running a streamlined office with easy-to-maintain systems and no-brainer processes to take you from A to B is a key factor in ensuring your business success. With technology, choices, work/life balance and a myriad of other distractions, deadlines and priorities, it’s no wonder we procrastinate.

Getting and staying organised allows you to achieve maximum efficiency and reach your full potential. Organisation gives you freedom, clarity and room to breathe. But you need to start somewhere.

American surveys have shown that paperwork is the single biggest contributor to clutter. A standard four-drawer filing cabinet can hold as many as 18 000 sheets of paper. However, most people caught in this situation, and surrounded by paper, still kid themselves that they can find what they want when they need it!

Filing system
So how do you stop the piling and take care of the filing? We do this with a system called “file, action, toss” (Fat).

· Gather all your loose papers into one central point.

· Picking up each and every paper, make a spot decision (within a couple of seconds) whether it stays or goes. Determine this by how useful it can be to you in the future, or whether it’s now obsolete. Be ruthless! As a rule of thumb, documents you haven’t looked at for six months or longer (with the exception of tax/employment records or other papers required for reference or legal purposes) are unlikely to be necessary to you.

· The papers for filing get placed in one pile.

· Have a second pile dedicated to action. An action item requires you to do something with it. Any unfinished business, other than filing, moves to this pile. You should use your action pile in conjunction with your to-do list.

· The third pile is for all the papers you neither need nor want. These can be added to the “toss” pile and recycled.

Once you know what papers you’re left with, decide the best way of storing them.

· Go back through your file pile and place your papers into broad categories, eg banking, research, etc. If certain categories end up being too big for you to find papers within a couple of seconds, create sub-categories (eg Nedbank, Absa, etc).

· Once you’ve worked through your paper pile(s), you’ll have a clear idea of what type of filing system will work best for you. The options available in SA include: lever arch (well suited to the perfectionist, since it’s time- and space-consuming), hanging files (easy to overload) and top retrieval folders (tidy files and Optiplan are examples of these: they’re great space-savers). Visit your local stationery store to ask for advice or contact one of the Get Organised team of professional organisers so we can help you get started.

Once you’ve done your “Fat” process, make a resolution that from now on, any papers which come your way will immediately be either worked on, filed or trashed.

Tracey Foulkes is a corporate speaker and owner of organising and productivity company Get Organised (SA and Ireland). Visit: for further information.

For business assistance visit 

To read the full version of this story go to page 164 of the September issue of DESTINY