We are inundated daily with reading material – magazines, brochures, newsletters, books. We usually don’t ask for it or buy it – it comes regularly, generously and free, courtesy of our mail system. Mail is great if that’s the only contact you have to the outside world but I highly doubt that’s the case with you. Said that, the average American receives 49,060 pieces of mail in their lifetime, 1/3 of it is junk mail.

At one point, in the not too distant past, my mailbox was stuffed with tons of junk – real estate offers, pre-approved credit cards, brochures, catalogs, solicitations in the midst of my important mail (personal and business). And I quickly realized that unless I address this issue head-on it will soon take over my home & my life. So, I got down to business and figured out a system that worked for me.

In accordance with the principles of “what comes in must got out,” you will need an INBOX to deposit all incoming mail/paper and an OUTBOX for all mail/documents that need to be forwarded or mailed.

Each paper that comes in your mailbox needs to be sorted using these 5 simple rules:

RULE 1: Documents that needs follow up goes in the ACTION file folder.

RULE 2: Documents that need to be saved must go in the TO FILE folder or in the appropriate PROJECT FILE. If you are sorting personal mail, then it can go in the appropriate CATEGORY FILE.

RULE 3: Documents that you’re waiting for someone to respond to goes in the PENDING FILE folder.

RULE 4: Documents that need to be read go in the TO READ folder. If it’s a periodical or magazine, place them in a Magazine Holder if you will reach them at a later time.

RULE 5: Documents that you don’t need must either go in the TRASH, RECYCLE BIN, or SHRED it.

These rules apply to both your business and personal mail entering your household, especially if you work-at-home. To keep your mail (or paper) from proliferating, follow this simple, three-step process.

1. Put all incoming paper in one place, your INBOX. This could be a letter tray, a hanging file folder or even a complete desk station.

2. Label 4 file folders with ACTION, TO FILE, PENDING, and TO READ headings. Instead of file folders you could use letter trays, or stacking bins. The file folders can either be placed in a tiered stacking file organizer (on a desk) or in hanging file in a file drawer.

3. Start by opening each mail & deciding what to do with it following the 5 rules mentioned above. Work through all your mail in one sitting.

The habit that I found important to cultivate was to schedule time daily to deal with the incoming mail. Treat this time as important as any other item on your schedule. Each time a piece of paper comes your way; decide on what you will do with it right away. Don’t procrastinate.

The best thing about this process is you don’t have to do it exactly like this – you can adjust the process to suit yourself. But, use these rules and steps as guidelines to expedite the task.

Question: Have you found a system that works for you and saves you time too? Then, share it here.

Bio: Tanha Patel, Productivity Specialist, is the author of Productive Workplace and founder of Prorg, LLC. Her passion is to help you get a handle on your time, space and information in your business and regain control of your life and your work environment. Ask us your productivity & time management questions any time at Facebook.com/Prorg.

Image source: webrulon.com

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