Piles. FIles. Lists. OH NO.

Janet L. Hall
OverHall Consulting

Janet L. Hall is a Professional Organizer and owner of OverHall Consulting. Janet is based out of Southern Maryland and can be reached at 410-586-9440 or e-mail her at overhall@chesapeake.net. Janet can "OverHall" your office, home, and computer clutter. She is currently conducting workshops in Calvert, St. Mary's, and Anne Arundel Counties and is available for on-site workshops and one-on-one instruction on getting organized. She recently wrote her first booklet, "The LITTLE WHO, WHEN, and WHERE Booklet" ã which you can order for yourself, a loved one, or your clients by visiting her web site at http://expage.com/page/overhallbooklets


Everyday our countertops and desks get bombarded with papers, notes, phone messages, school papers, mail, and of course all the "stuff" we have to print out from our computers!

Today I'd like to talk to you about how you can handle and organize all the paper that comes into your home or across your desk.

I've developed the 5 W's of Organizing, a Teaser, and a "Tickle"ä that I'd like to share with you.

How the System Works: The 5 W's of Organizing is a set of questions, using WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY, that you ask yourself for every piece of paper that you handle. This will also assist you on what TEASER to use.

The TEASER will give you eight actions you can take to help you sort through your paper piles, files, and lists. What? Teaser only has six letters…you'll see. Toss it You can't answer the 5 W's, it's outdated, or broken. End it You don't want it, you want to cancel it, or you don't read it. Act on it Needs an action; such as your signature, phone call, or immediate attention. Store it You need and have answered the 5 W's. This will have three piles: Current, Referral, and Historical Enter it Information you need to enter into your planner or computer. Refer/Recycle/Read it It belongs to someone else or you think they need it. Use it again or put into a recycling bin. Something you want/need to read.

The TICKLER FILING SYSTEM (sorry, I don't know who developed this) is a dated filing system that can be used to get the piles off your countertops and desks. I use this system instead of an IN/OUT box. You can make one or buy one already made at most office supply stores. The Tickler Filing System consists of 43 folders, one for each month labeled January - December and one for each day of the month, labeled 1 - 31. As you can see, this is an action-dated system. The purpose of the system is to "tickle" you and it's a place to store the information or work you have or need for a particular day and/or month. This is where you would file such things as your dated follow up calls, airline tickets, vacation plans, meeting information, and bills. Its uses are endless!

Getting Started: Schedule a date and time to go through your piles, files, and lists. Write down a REWARD; such as, a massage, new "do", the dress you've been wanting to buy, use your imagination. This is what you will give yourself AFTER you have completed this task. Grab some garbage bags, a timer, your favorite music, some boxes, a tickler filing system, the 5 W's of Organizing Questions, your favorite drink, and put on some comfortable clothes.

Start Sorting: I like to sit on the floor to sort because I can spread out everything. Make the following labels for your TEASER piles: End it, Act on it, Store it, Enter it, Refer/Recycle/Read it. Where's the Toss it pile you ask? You don't need a pile, just toss your stuff that you don't need or want into the garbage can or bag! Now, sort each piece of paper, file, and list into the appropriate pile. You will be going through each pile again.

Now that you have all your piles, files, and lists sorted and more manageable, you are going to go through your Store it, Enter it, Refer it, and Read it piles using the 5 W's of Organizing Questions. This is where you must be really honest with yourself for each piece of paper in your piles. First, set your timer for 5 minutes and get up and stretch!

The 5 W's of Organizing Questions: As you pick up each piece of paper ask yourself the following questions:

WHO does this belong to? WHO needs this?

WHAT use is this? WHAT do I need it for?

WHEN will I need this? WHEN will I use it?

WHERE will I find this? WHERE does it belong?

WHY do I have this? WHY do I want this?

How to Use: Let's look at your first piece of paper in your Store it pile.

Ask yourself the WHO questions. If it doesn't belong to anyone and no one needs it..TOSS IT!

If someone else needs it..REFER IT. If it belongs to you, ask yourself the WHAT questions. If you don't have a use for it or you don't know what you need it for..TOSS IT!

If it is of use to you and you need it, ask yourself the WHEN questions. These questions will help determine WHERE you will find it and WHERE it belongs. If it is something you need within the week or something you are working on..it's CURRENT, make a CURRENT pile (we'll "tickle" this later into our TICKLER). If it's something that you need to refer to; such as last year's income tax records, warranties, a contract, or forms, make a REFERRAL pile. If it's something that you might need to keep because of sentimental value; such as a picture your child drew, a birthday card, or it's a legality issue; such as the last six years of your income tax records, former employee records, make a HISTORICAL pile. Now don't forget to ask the WHY questions. If you don't know why you have it..TOSS IT!

Now go through your Enter it, Refer it, and Read it piles using the 5 W's of Organizing Questions. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Okay, that wasn't too bad was it? Let's look at what you've got left. You should have the following, hopefully smaller, piles: END IT, ACT ON IT, STORE IT (CURRENT, REFERRAL, HISTORICAL), ENTER IT, REFER IT, and READ IT.

I know you might be getting tired, but don't worry, you'll almost finished. Set your timer for 5 minutes and take another stretch break. Let's get these piles into your TICKLER FILING SYSTEM. (REFERRAL and HISTORICAL piles are excluded and I'll address them at another time).

You'll need to get out your calendar, planner, to-do list or whatever you are using to track and plan your days, to help you determine what date and/or month you need to or want to act on what is left in your piles.

END IT - This is the day you will cancel anything that you want to stop receiving by e-mail, "snail" mail, or stuff from other people; such as a newspaper or trade journal you never read or jokes that you receive on a daily basis and don't want to receive anymore. Now, pencil in the date and a time into your planner when you will call, e-mail, or "snail" mail your cancellation. Put all the necessary information from your END IT pile that you have and will need to cancel into the corresponding date of your TICKLER file.

ACT ON IT - Schedule a date and time that you will take the action needed for these items and file the information needed from your ACT ON IT pile into the corresponding date of your TICKLER file.

STORE IT - CURRENT Pile: Get a folder and label it CURRENT to file your current projects into. I like to use colored folders and I have one labeled PENDING (I'm waiting on or need more information) and another labeled WORKING PROJECTS. WORKING PROJECTS is where I store my files and information for the projects I'm working on during the day so they aren't piling up all over my desk and I can easily retrieve them when needed.

ENTER IT - If it's date related; such as meetings or appointments, enter the information into your planner, any paper work in your ENTER IT pile that is related to these items get placed into the corresponding date of your TICKLER file. It's out of the pile and you know where it is when you need it.

SCENERIO: You have a meeting on April 15th and you have some graphs that you will be presenting at the meeting. Enter the meeting into your planner and place the graphs into the folder marked 15. You won't be looking for those graphs when April 15th arrives!

If the information in your pile is addresses or letters that need to be entered into your computer, schedule the date and time to do these actions and put those papers into the corresponding TICKLER date.

REFER IT - Make sure one last time that you want to pass on this paper and place into your TICKLER the date you will see that person or send them the information.

READ IT - If you schedule a date and time for reading, place this material in the corresponding TICKLER date. Otherwise, place all reading materials into your reading file. Make sure this file is portable to take along with you whenever you anticipate that you might be waiting and have time to read; such as waiting in traffic. If you have books that you are reading, place them in a basket or a nice container and place this next to the area where you like to read.

Now that you have all your piles, files, and lists organized and more manageable - GO GET YOUR REWARD, you deserve it!

Using the 5 W's of Organizing, a Teaser, and a "Tickle"ä daily will help you keep your countertops and desks free of paper clutter and will give you more time to do the things that you want to do!

Smiles, not Piles, Janet L. Hall