I’m delighted to welcome Lisa Woodruff back to The Productive Woman to talk with me about how we can conquer paper clutter in our homes and offices, and how getting it all under control can increase our productivity and happiness.
The Paper Solution: eliminating paper clutter and taking control of our lives
Getting our papers organized and under control may seem like such a mundane thing, but it can make a big difference in your life. Knowing that your important papers are organized and in one place will reduce your stress and anxiety level. And with how hectic this year has been, this is one thing you can control.
Lisa Woodruff is a productivity and home organization expert who motivates and teaches busy women to take back control of their lives with functional systems that work. She’s the founder and CEO of Organize 365® and is the host of the top-rated podcast by that same name, where she shares strategies for reducing the overwhelm, clearing the mental clutter, and living a productive and organized life. She has authored several Amazon bestselling books and is a sought-after trainer and speaker. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her family. She was our guest way back in January 2017 (TPW122), but since then she’s written a new book that offers solutions to a problem I think a lot of us face: paper clutter.
It began with the Sunday Basket system
The Sunday Basket is a system Lisa developed over time that allows you to do away with to-do lists, rid your countertops of paper clutter, and get everything that’s on your mind onto index cards. It’s a way to free up each day from living in a reactive mode by instead proactively planning each Sunday and doing as much as you can in a 90-minute session. If you can’t complete it all in 90 minutes, then it can be deferred to the next Sunday. Lisa has found that people who use the Sunday Basket system save, on average, 5 hours every week, within six weeks after they start using the system.
The Paper Solution
Lisa just published a book called The Paper Solution. She decided to write this book because she couldn’t find any books on paper organization, either because the trend is to digitize everything or to rely on color-coded file cabinets, or because organizing paper is just plain hard. (I had the privilege of reading The Paper Solution ahead of its release and immediately asked Lisa to come back to TPW to talk to us about dealing with paper clutter. I highly recommend this book!)
Lisa found that although the Sunday Basket system worked for people, they couldn’t maintain the color-coded file cabinet system. When papers go into the file cabinets, they seldom come out. Lisa realized she needed to create categories of paper so people know which papers go into which categories, and then teach them a better to organize those.
Lisa came up with the idea of using binders instead of file cabinets, so that the papers could be portable, and could be taken to lawyers’ offices, your doctor’s office, or outside in case you need to quickly evacuate your home.
Once we get papers out of the file cabinets and into binders, Lisa says, we realize how many of those papers we can actually get rid of.
How to reduce paper coming into our homes and workplaces
We as a society have been talking about a paper-free workplace and home for decades, yet we still aren’t paperless, and we probably never will be. Paper is still a huge source of clutter and stress. Once we accept that there will always be paper, we can learn how to work with it. If you are getting a lot of junk mail or magazines, recycle what you can and unsubscribe to as much as possible. Do everything you can to stop the paper flow.
Categories of paper and what we should do with them
In most everyone’s life, there is a time when there will be so much going on that life seems to run you over. During those times, there is almost always a paper component to that experience, whether it’s because of an illness, a death, or a flood or fire within your home.
Lisa’s new book, The Paper Solution, can be read front to back like any book, but it is also a guide that you can dip into as needed for guidance in organizing the types of paper you most urgently need to deal with. For example, here are Lisa’s categories for different kinds of paper and what can be done with them.
- Everyday “Sunday Basket” paper: this is actionable paper that comes into your house, or ideas you need or want to take action on. You can review this kind of paper each Sunday and decide what to do with it.
- Archival paper: These are papers containing important reference information that doesn’t need immediate action and can be filed into as many as six 3-ring binders, but everyone will begin with these three binders:
- Medical: records of medications, procedures, allergies, etc. Each family member should have their own binder.
- Financial: power-of-attorney information, estate information, account numbers, passwords, 401k’s, insurance policies, etc.
- Household reference: any papers related to your home that you would give to a new owner or tenant.
There are also optional binders, which include household operations (the “lesson plans” of your home which can include recipes, magazine clippings, pet information, babysitter information) and then two children’s binders (one for school artwork and one for advocating for special needs or other educational needs).
How do we know what to keep?
It’s not incorrect to keep more paper. There is no wrong or right. But one question to ask yourself is if you did not have a particular piece of paper, how would you access that information?
Another question could be what do you need to use that paper for? For example, is that paper something that could be digitized but then disposed of after a certain period of time (such as medical or education records)? Or should you hang on to those records indefinitely? You need to take ownership of your own information.
Starting the process
Lisa’s book, The Paper Solution, lays out a path forward for those of us who are overwhelmed by the amount of paper in our homes and offices and struggling to get it all under control. This book takes you step by step through the process of sorting, categorizing, purging, and finally getting everything into an appropriate binder for safe-keeping.
Going through all of our paperwork and deciding what to keep or purge is not just a weekend activity. And it’s not just an intellectual activity either. It involves emotions and attachments we may have to our papers. Some of the papers we come across may remind us of unhappy or stressful times. Give yourself permission to take as much time as you need.
This process will begin by getting your Sunday Basket working. You should have that going for about 6 weeks, and then you will be ready to start going through your file cabinets and doing a big purge. Any papers left after the purge are then sorted into your categorized binders.
Some of us may not be managing only our own papers, but also the papers of our parents and grandparents. So it’s easy to see why this process may take several months or even a year to complete.
Benefits of getting your paper under control
Lisa has found that by the time someone tries The Paper Solution, they are at their wit’s end from looking for the papers they need and trying to keep everything organized. They may have lost their marriage certificate, missed paying a bill, or misplaced an important notice from their child’s school. Or a significant event may have happened, such as the death of a parent or grandparent, or a new medical diagnosis.
Lisa says these kinds of situations force a person to get their papers under control, whether they want to or not. They may go into the process kicking and screaming. However, once they get their Sunday Basket started, they will feel like they are back in control of their life and will regain their confidence.
When you complete this process, the papers that matter will be in a specific place at the time you need them.
Lisa’s last words for the listener
Lisa says that anytime she starts to feel anxious or stressed, she focuses on something she can do at home that is within her control–sorting pictures, cleaning out a closet, or reading a book. When you start taking action inside of your home, your brain starts firing in a different way, which helps reduce your anxiety and stress. You are safe and in control in your home.
Lisa also encourages us to stop making to-do lists, and instead make possibilities lists, which consist of anything you may want to do in your free time. Lisa has found that by changing the name and intention of her lists, she isn’t stressed or holding herself to an unrealistic expectation.
What Lisa is most looking forward to
Right now, Lisa is excited about the products her company offers and the different membership levels they’ve created. She continues to expand on what’s offered at each of the membership levels without raising the price, which is something she is proud of. Lisa’s goal is to find new ways for people to get organized in their homes and offices.
Connect with Lisa
- Her new book available now for purchase, The Paper Solution
- On her website Organize 365
- Her podcast Organize 365
- On LinkedIn
- On Facebook
- On Instagram
- On YouTube
- On Pinterest
- On Twitter
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
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Royse City, Texas