Ready to Organize Your Paper?

If you’re like most of us, you’re a little surprised by the amount of paper you have in your house—old tax papers, ATM receipts, business cards, old catalogs, credit card receipts, financial records, medical records, holiday and birthday cards, old calendars, owner manuals, and your children’s artistic masterpieces. How do you manage all these important papers without feeling like a hoarder?

Sort Regularly

The most important thing you can do with all that paper is to sort it regularly. Items that were once important often become unnecessary over time: the owner’s manual for the car you sold last year, for example. Toss it.

Create Specific Places for Each Type of Record

Designate a folder or an entire file drawer to each type of record. Label each accordingly—medical, owner’s manuals, Financial, keepsakes, etc. Remember, once you’ve placed an item in one of these drawers or folders, don’t ignore it. In time most of the things you store away can be shredded and thrown out. Go through these folders at least once each year and decide what you still need to keep. This task is easy to forget, so schedule it in your planner early.

Decide What To Throw Away

Keeping something is easy, but clearing clutter requires an honest evaluation of the value of an item. That can be hard, but clearing space is incredibly liberating. One way to know the value of an item is to ask, “When was the last time I looked for this?” If it’s been a few years, it can probably go to the shredder.

Most tax related items should be kept for at least three years, and some need to be available for seven. Talk with your tax advisor to know what is best for you. Once the appropriate time has passed, shred as much as you can. You can also scan papers and store them electronically. The IRS accepts electronic copies of your papers as long as they’re legible.


1SS3uNSXYour children are amazingly gifted aren’t they? They’re also prolific artists. If you keep everything they create for you, you’ll be buried alive in your house. It pays to be selective. Keep the most sentimental creations and those that you feel are their best work. Go through their work after each report card and see how much of their stuff they’re willing to give up. It’s also fun to take a picture of them next to their artwork so you have the memory, then you can throw away the bulky artwork and save the image on your computer.

Consider the Cloud

If you save your photos and documents in a cloud service you’ll have access to them anytime or anywhere. They won’t take up valuable living space in your home, and you can organize them any way you like.

Hopefully we’ve given you a few good suggestions and helped spark even better ideas of your own. Organizing is a personal thing, so you’ll want to find what works for you and your family.

Luckily, storing your planner pages is easy. Simply slip them into your storage binder and sleeve, and you’ll have easy access to your personal record for as long as you’d like to keep it.

Last-Minute Tax Organizing Tips

By Carmen Coker

In the words of Dave Barry, “It’s income tax time again…time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil, and stab yourself in the aorta.”

Filing taxes = huge pain. We all know it. We all go through it once a year. And while there’s no way around tax season, there is a way to make the process less stressful – preparation. A little bit of preparation can make a huge difference in your tax filing experience, whether you do so weeks in advance or at the last minute. Not only can it help you get your tax refund faster if you qualify, but it can also help you avoid the high levels of stress normally associated with finishing your taxes.

If you’d love to come out the other end of tax season unscathed, then here are the best organizing tips to help you do just that. Think: T–A–X–E–S!

(1) Tally: Decide how many hours you need for tax prep. 

First, choose a final date, such as “I want to be done with my taxes by April 10th.” Then work your timetable backwards from that date, planning around your work schedule, family responsibilities, and extracurriculars.

Second, think about how long it has taken you in the past to complete your taxes. If six hours of tax prep has been enough previously, then this year will likely be no different unless you had major changes in your life. So pencil in two hours on your calendar for three days between now and April 10th, or maybe one hour each evening for the next week.

(2) Assemble: Gather all tax-related documents.

Search your files, baskets, and bins. Your objective? To find any and all receipts, canceled checks, and other papers that support an item of income or deduction. Plus, be on the lookout for important tax forms like W-2s and 1099s in the mail.

Don’t forget about the charitable donations you’ve made over the last year! TurboTax ItsDeductible™ is a free software that tracks and adds your donations year-round and accurately determines the value of your donated items.

(3) X-cessorize: Compliment your tax prep efforts.

I’m not talking shoes and purses here! It’s all about storage. Now that you’ve got each and every one of your tax documents assembled, they must be organized in one central location, so as not to get lost.

There are lots of different tax organizers that can keep your tax papers in order.  If you’re not into fancy-schmancy, then you can dress ‘em down with the oldie but goodie manila envelope.

(4) Evaluate: Assess how you want to file your return.

Will you prepare your return personally or will your accountant? Are you eligible for free help at an IRS office or volunteer site? Will you purchase tax prep software or e-file online?

There are many possibilities to consider! Weigh them all and find the option that best suits your needs. These variables may require modifications to your tally and time line. If so, refer back to #1.

(5) Schedule: Make a date to officially file your return.

If you’re doing your own taxes, make an appointment with yourself. If a tax rep is doing your taxes, promptly make an appointment with that individual. In either case, schedule asap – before the calendar fills up – and schedule a date several days ahead of the April 15th filing deadline, just in case a contingency comes up and you need more time to complete the filing process.

Remember: It’s never too early to start tax prep for next year! Looking ahead prevents a last-minute tax crunch and all the pressure that comes with it.

How do you get organized for tax season? I’d love to find out! Please share your thoughts, experiences, ideas, and other comments below.

Carmen Coker is a former US Air Force officer turned professional organizer. Thousands of busy people have benefited from her expertise featured by CBS, NBC, and Real Simple magazine – now it’s your turn! If you want to get organized and calm the chaos in your life, go to for her free video how-to called the Secrets of the Super Organized™.

Purge Your Paper

Whether you’re following along in a work meeting or keeping records at home, you’re going to end up using a lot of paper over the course of a sdfsdfdsfyear. Here are some ideas for cutting down (and then cutting up) some of your biggest paper stacks:

Old Tax Papers – You generally want to keep tax records for a period of five years. If you’ve used smart tax file organization, this makes getting rid of old years as simple as feeding a file folder through a shredder one page at a time.

Receipts – If you lean left when you sit on your wallet, it’s time to remove some of the old receipts. Update your budget and reconcile your account, and then feed the shredder.

Business Cards – If the bulge in your wallet comes from old business cards, take a moment to enter the contact information into an Excel spreadsheet. Your online contact database will be much more searchable than your wallet.

Greeting Cards – If you still have leftover greeting cards from the holidays, go through them and remove any great pictures or particularly special messages to store in your journal. Then clear your fridge of the rest.

Instruction Manuals – If you save your instruction manuals, now is the time to go through them. Discard any that belong to appliances that you’ve replaced or no longer use. (This might also be a great time to locate and donate or sell those unused apppliances.)

Last Year’s Planner – Your planner from 2013 contains a trove of information, but it does you no good if it’s scattered across your desk. A Storage Case and Sleeve will give it a tidy home on your bookshelf.

Business Card Bombardment!

As a self-employed business owner, aside from working with clients in their homes, I spend a lot of time in my home office. It’s wonderful to get out of the office and network with new people who can help you and your business grow. However, while a lot of networking can help both you and your business grow, it can also create a dust covered growth on the corner of your desk…yes, stacks and stacks of business cards!

It’s not atypical to arrive home from a networking session with a dozen to a couple dozen business cards. Don’t panic…we can work through this together! Follow these simple steps when you get home from your networking event, so you have the people that the cards belong to fresh in your mind. Don’t stress about this too much, the process should be quick and painless!

1) Lay out the cards in front of you and first pull the ones that you want to take immediate notes on, if you haven’t had the opportunity to do so at the event. Write down anything of interest that you talked about with a person, even if it’s a hobby that the two of you share.

2) Take 3 sticky notes and jot the following three words down, one on each. Grab 3 rubber bands as well to group the cards together in each category.

  • Contact – If they are someone to call or e-mail about an upcoming opportunity.
  • LinkedIn – If they are someone who you don’t need to talk to about anything at this point but simply want to add them to your LinkedIn account to stay connected.
  • Referral – If they are someone who you think could help another one of your contacts.

3) Set up time in your schedule within the next few days to focus on each group.

So what is there to do now, now that you have gone through them? How do you go about storing them? Well, that depends on your personal preference. Consider the following options:

If you and your smart phone are attached at the hip, then consider one of the business card scanning apps out there. There are so many, so it’s best to check out the ones available to your phone, read the reviews, and decide which one is best for you. After you scan all of the cards, you can toss them in the recycling bin if you so choose!

If you would like to keep the cards (some of them are really great looking!), then consider filling any binder with plastic business card pages designed to hold business cards. You should be able to find these in any office supply store. Or, go old school and get a Rolodex! Keep either in order alphabetically or by occupation.

However you decide to handle your business cards, remember that the main point of collecting them is keeping in contact with new people who can help you. Oh and don’t forget to dust your desk once in a while!

Thanks Naomi for sharing these great tips!

Clean Up Your Schedule

April PlannersHave you ever heard of burnout? It’s a term used to describe a mental state, similar to depression, which comes from excess stress over a long period of time. It can lead to decreased motivation at your job, more apathy and neglect in your personal relationships, and even more illness due to a decreased immune system.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it is time to take a closer look at what you do each day. Filling your schedule to bursting doesn’t let you live more – it can actually lead to burnout and make your life less satisfying.

So how do you clear the clutter from your schedule? The first step is to get it written down. Write down all of your daily tasks and appointments for the coming week. (If you don’t have a planner, we have great April start date designs.)

Then, as you go through the week, take some time to see how much your actual behavior matches your schedule. Periodically write down what you’ve actually done right next to your planned activity. At the end of the week, you’ll have a real record of how you spend your time to analyze.

In today’s world, it’s incredibly easy to get distracted, whether you’re working on an onerous project at work or listening to your daughter in the junior high school orchestra concert. If your analysis shows that you spend a lot of your time pursuing distractions, try cutting a few of them out of the picture. You might be surprised how much a little increased presence can help you enjoy your life and ease your burnout.


Managing Your Papers: Inbox, Outbox, and Everything In Between

By Joshua Zerkel  

Set up a system that syncs with the lifecycle of paper.

No matter how organized the rest of your office may be, it’s easy to feel like things are out of control when your desk is covered with papers. Although you may have heard rumors that the so-called “paperless world” has arrived, you and I both know that we have more paper coming at us than ever before. If you feel like paper is a pain in the butt, you’re not alone. But the good news is if you put the right systems in place you can get the papers in your office under control.

In order to come up with strategies for how to deal with paper, we need to understand that paper has a lifecycle of its very own:

1.Papers come into your office—printed from the computer, through the mail, or maybe brought in from meetings or conferences.
2.You sort the papers—you put bills in one stack, magazines and periodicals in another, correspondences you need to write into a third.
3.You process the papers—you pay bills, read magazines, or write letters.
4.You archive the papers—papers you’re keeping long-term are put into your file cabinet or a box.
5.You remove the papers—you drop the junk mail in the recycle bin or shred sensitive documents.

These five stages—in, sort, process, archive, and out—are the basic framework for your paper-management strategy. The key to managing your paper is to have dedicated space for each stage in your paper’s lifecycle: an inbox for all the things that are brand new; a “hot files area” to handle the sorting and the processing steps; an archival area for all the papers you want to hold onto long term; and an outbox for papers that are leaving your space entirely. Let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail.

First is an inbox. This can simply be a basket, box, or tray where you place all incoming papers—mail, printouts, etc.–keeping it all in one place so that it doesn’t get lost in the chaos of your desk. When it’s time for you to actually sit down and process your new papers, you don’t have to waste time searching your space. Aside from collecting your incoming papers, this first stage is completely action free.

Of course, many papers do require some action on your part—a signature, a response, a payment. This is where most people’s systems tend to fall down. Typically there will be a “To-Do” stack, but that isn’t always helpful because we simply have too many different kinds of actions we need to take on any given paper. I think it’s helpful to have a hot files area: This can simply be a desktop file box, maybe 6” to 8” deep, which is readily available in any office supply store. Inside of this file box you would have a series of hanging files; this enables you to break out your To-Dos into the different actions you need to take, with specific words for each action that your papers represent—“Call” for phone messages, “Sign” for papers that require signatures, “Calendar” for events you need to add to your schedule, “Correspondence” for letters, and so on. Now, when you go through your inbox you can sort your papers into the specific actions that each paper needs. This makes it a lot easier for you to actually take those actions: now you can grab the “Call” folder and make all of the phone calls at once, or take the “Sign” folder and sign all of the documents at one time. Rather than going through a stack of To-Dos and going back and forth and shifting gears, now you’re streamlining how you’re dealing with your paper. Creating this system should save you a lot of stress, a lot of frustration, and hopefully quite a bit of time as well.

Once you’ve taken action on your papers via your hot files area, there will be some you need to hold onto. Those will go in your archives—a file box, file cabinet, or file drawer. This is your long-term, cold storage area. You can name these files whatever you like—whatever makes the most intuitive sense to you.

Of course not every paper you take action with needs to be stored. Some of your paper will need to be recycled, shredded, or sent back into the world. It is helpful to have a recycle bin and a shredder right next to where your new mail or paper comes in. For the papers that need to go back into the world (outgoing mail or interoffice documents), it’s best to have a corresponding outbox right next to your inbox. This would be where everything that you’re taking back out into the world would live until you’re actually leaving.

Excellent organizing advice Josh, thanks for sharing! 

Joshua Zerkel

Paperwork Organization the start of school, suddenly we have to dig out required documents and paperwork again, searching through our filing systems for birth certificates and immunization records. If your filing system makes this a challenge, start simple. Add some colored file folders to your cabinet, and use a specific color for each category. For example, tax returns, mortgage agreements, loan agreements, and insurance policies are all financial documents, and could all be stored in the same area in well-labeled folders of the same color. Then when you need to retrieve something, you can go right to the section you need instead of squinting at tabs as you finger through from the front.


3 Easy Ways to Get Your Paper Under Control

By Joshua Zerkel

Virtually every client I have – and every person I talk to – is fed up with dealing with paper. And it’s no surprise, since, like email, we have a constant influx of it that we’re simply forced to deal with. The worst part is that even though we all have paper in our lives, we’re never really taught what to do with it or how to manage it. It’s no wonder that people are practically in tears by the time they call me asking for help.

If you’re feeling like dealing with paper makes you want to tear your hair out, the good news is that there are simple things you can do to help. You don’t have to wait until your stacks of paper are about to topple over or let every available horizontal surface get covered in paper before you decide to develop some strategies for gaining control over paper. Here’s a few ways to get started:

Stop taking it. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who have told me as we’re going through their mounds of papers that much of what they’ve been keeping they never wanted in the first place. Some of the culprits include junk mail, atm and grocery receipts, old bills, and more. The truth is, you don’t have to accept every piece of paper that’s foisted on you – when given a choice, if you don’t know what you’ll do with that paper when you get it back to your home or office, find a way to not collect it. Get off junk mail and catalog lists, decline receipts at the atm, leave the grocery receipts at the bottom of the bag and use the bag for recycling, and switch to electronic billing. Just by doing these quick actions you’ll likely get rid of tons of scraps of paper.

Break the sticky note addiction. One or two sticky notes on your desk or computer can be helpful reminders – maybe you keep frequently used phone numbers on one note, and a quick to-do item on another. But if your computer screen is framed by sticky notes, they start to become part of the background and lose all their utility. There’s no doubt that sticky notes can be helpful, but when you have a lot of them they stop being helpful and start creating their own special brand of neon-colored clutter. Plus, they are so easy to lose! Instead of writing everything on an endless series of stickies, try getting one small spiral-bound notebook, and write all of each day’s notes, ideas, and to-do’s in there. Make sure the notebook is small enough that it can travel with you wherever you go. That way, you’ll always be able to jot notes down, everything will be date-stamped, centralized, and easy to keep track of.

Go paperless. If you have lots of paper lying around, you may want to wave the proverbial magic wand and make it all just go away. With most things organizing and productivity related, I have to tell people that this just isn’t possible. However, with paper, it is! For virtually any task that you would normally need paper for, there are services and tools that can help you switch those tasks to a paperless version. As mentioned above, one obvious way to begin going paperless is to switch to electronic billing. If you have lots of receipts (both paper and electronic), you can use a service like Shoeboxed to scan them for you, and OfficeDrop will take your printed documents and convert them to searchable electronic versions. You can also get a personal scanner like the ones from the Neat Company and scan things on your own. Another method is to stop printing out documents whenever possible and instead read them on your desktop computer, iPad or other tablet, or even on your phone.

As with most things productivity and organizing related, there’s no one right way or one-size-fits-all method for managing paper, so don’t feel like you need to get it “right.” Just try a few different strategies, and see what works!

Great tips, Joshua!  What strategy will you try first?  

Joshua Zerkel


Choosing the Right Tools for Going Paperless

By Joshua Zerkel

Paper takes a lot of space to store, and especially if you’re used to searching for documents on your computer, rifling through paper piles and digging into file cabinets can seem practically archaic! Many people have been asking me lately to help them go paperless – that is, reduce the amount of paper they have in their homes or offices. You’ll always have SOME paper – the mail will still come in the door, you’ll collect things while out in the world, and you’ll still print things from your computer. Going paperless can help you reduce the amount of storage space your documents take up, and make it easier to process and find your documents later when you need them.

There are four basic ways to help you get your paper documents digitized (that is, scanned and put onto your computer). Here’s the rundown, as well as who each type is right for:

Portable Scanners – If you travel frequently and want to get your documents scanned immediately, a portable scanner will let you do just that. Typically, these devices are small and light and come with software that will let you scan your documents as PDFs and/or into a proprietary database. Some have you scan one sheet or business card at a time, while higher-end (read: more expensive) models will let you insert 10 or 15 sheets. These are a good bet if you have a very small scanning volume or if you travel a lot – if you are mostly stationed at a desk, other options will be easier to use and will likely serve you better. Popular portable scanners are made by the Neat Company, Fujitsu, and Canon, and are typically in the $100-$200 range.

Desktop Scanners – If you’re desk-bound and have a lot of documents that you’ll want scanned on an ongoing basis, a dedicated high-speed desktop scanner may be a good choice. These are usually larger and heavier-duty than their portable counterparts, and can usually scan 25-50 pages at a time, which saves you from having to refill the scanner as frequently. These are a good choice if you have lots of scanning that you’ll be doing yourself on an ongoing basis. Keep in mind that you’ll need to find space in your office to accommodate these devices, which are typically the size of a small printer or fax machine. Common models are made by the same companies that make portable scanners – the Neat Company, Fujitsu, and Canon. These can get pretty expensive ($250-$500+), and they have a lot of moving parts, so if you buy one, it’s worth investing in an extended warranty if one is offered.

Multifunction Devices – If you are short on space in your office and have relatively light scanning needs, a multifunction device – one that is a printer, scanner, fax, and copier all-in-one – may be able to handle a variety of your office tasks. These can save a lot of space because they can replace up to four other separate devices, and they are usually relatively inexpensive ($150 or so for a decent model from HP, Lexmark, Canon, and other large manufacturers). These are a great choice if you have relatively light scanning needs, as they will get the job done, but very slowly – their scanning speeds tend take a lot longer than a dedicated desktop scanner. If you choose one, make sure to get a model that includes an automatic document feeder (ADF), as these will let you load multiple sheets for scanning or copying, rather than you having to put one sheet on the scanner glass at a time.

Scanning Services – If you know you won’t be dedicating time to doing scanning yourself on a regular basis but you still need and want your documents scanned, an offsite scanning service may be a good choice for you. When you sign up for one of these subscription-based services, you’ll receive a prepaid envelope that you fill with your documents and send off to the company once or twice a month. They will scan your docs and send them back to you or shred them at your request. Once scanned, you can view your documents online or download them back to your computer – it’s up to you. These are a great option if you aren’t planning on making a regular habit of scanning, as they handle the grunt work for you. Scanning services typically start around $15 a month and go up from there, depending on how much you need scanned. Popular scanning services are Shoeboxed ( for business cards and receipts and OfficeDrop ( for documents.

Going paperless can be a huge boost to your productivity. Choosing the right tool is essential to getting you started off on the right foot. What tools and techniques do you use to help you go paperless?

Thanks Joshua!

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Joshua Zerkel



4 Ways to Spend Less Time Processing Paper

Being a Certified Professional Organizer, I actually enjoy working with paper – I know, I’m strange! Even so, I don’t want to spend too much time on it; like you, I have many other tasks on my to-do list. One of my big goals for 2012 is to reduce the amount of paper that I have to process. Here are a few ways to do it:

Don’t print emails. Really, what are you going to do with that email you just printed out? Save it, maybe? Well, it’s already on your computer or on a server, so it’s already saved. If you’re worried about losing it or it being deleted, create a backup archive on your computer or an external disk. Better yet, use an online backup service like Mozy and you won’t have to worry about backups, they’ll happen automatically. If you’re printing out an email to use as a reference for an upcoming trip or event, start a small file for the trip, and when it’s over, shred or recycle the whole thing.

Don’t print web pages. Many of us print web pages for later reference, but even with the best of intentions, we may never review these documents. By printing these out, we’ve used ink and paper, spent time waiting for the page to print, and now have a new piece of paper on our desk that we need to deal with – a document that we may never even use, or may be outdated by the time we get back to it! Instead of printing, try creating folders in your web browser by topic, and bookmark pages that you’d like to revisit at some future point. If you’re worried that the page may no longer be there later, try a web page capture tool like the free Evernote Web Clipper, which lets you capture and save entire web pages for review later – without printing them out.

Don’t print your faxes. And I mean don’t print the one you’re sending OR the one you’re receiving. “But Josh,” you say, “I need to print it out in order to send it, right?” In most cases, no. If you have a printer/scanner/fax multifunction device, or a fax/modem built into your computer, you can usually “print” directly to the fax function (check your owner’s manual). Doing this bypasses the actual printer and sends your document straight to the fax function, without ever using any paper. Additionally, it takes less time since the fax doesn’t have to scan your document, and the quality is better on the recipient’s end. As far as receiving faxes, try using an internet-based service like eFax where you can view incoming faxes on your computer before you decide whether it’s worth printing.

Scan paper documents. Once you’re done working with a document or a file, studies show that once it’s in a file drawer, it’s VERY unlikely that you’re going to use it again. If that’s the case for your documents, instead of filing, you might want to scan them instead. Tools like NeatDesk can scan up to 50 pages via an automatic document feeder, and can convert those documents into searchable PDFs. What I like about this is that so many of us are used to doing searches online, that it feels really natural to search for our own documents – but this can only be done once they’re on our computer in some way, either as an entire document or as an index. I personally think scanning and automatic conversion to PDF is the easiest method.

Thank you Joshua!  Did you like this article?  Like it on Facebook and/or give it a cheer!

Joshua Zerkel


Organizing Tax Documents

During tax season most of us will spend some time digging through our filing cabinets. Most likely, there will be all sorts of documents from past tax years – medical bills, W2s, interest statements, and, frankly, some things that we’re not sure why we’re keeping. This tax season, go through your old documents and throw out expired statements. Most documents can be shredded after three years, or six years if you run your own business. Check with your tax professional.