Frazzled people often turn to a Facebook group for help. In today’s article, we’ll look at a band director drowning in paper. This middle school director writes as follows:


“Ugh! Every year I tell myself I’m going to stay organized and not have piles all over. Anyone have some helpful tips or hints to avoid this mess?”

The frazzled band director included several pictures. On the small desk is an entire computer system, phone, assorted sticky notes, and various stacks of paper that intermingled with each other. The avalanche spilled onto the floor. It was easy to see why the cry for “help” was sounded.

How do we organize this mess?

This paper nightmare is the result of decisions which have not been made. Each piece of paper represents either: 1) something to do, 2) something to file, 3) something to send somewhere else in the world, or 4) something to trash.

Gather every loose piece of paper, every file folder laying around, every sticky note, and put it in one pile. Your job won’t be to tackle the whole pile. All you have to do is take the very first one and make a decision about it. Then you move on to the next one. Before you know it, the pile is gone.

Two boxes, a large trash can, and the Tickler File

Start with the piece of paper on the very top and make a decision. Is it something no longer of value? Put it in the trash can.

Is it something to file? Don’t file it right now. The time it takes will slow down the process. Keep moving. Label a box “File” and drop it in. Once the “stack” is gone, set aside time to file the entire box. The trick is to stick with one type of task. Avoid going down a rabbit hole.

Is the paper or file something to give to someone else? Label a box “Return” and drop it in. Later, handle the entire box at one time and return things where they belong.

You’ll come across papers that need action sometime in the future: tickets to a concert next month, a birthday card you purchased and needs to be mailed a week from now, notes for a meeting you will need this Friday. We can’t do anything about these items now, so they lay around in hopes that the day we do need them, we miraculously lay eyes on them. These items are candidates for the “Tickler File.” If you’ve never heard of a “Tickler File,” read about it here.

What about the sticky notes saying something like, “Call Joe.” You may be tempted to place the call now. Add “Call Joe,” along with the phone number, to your to-do list and move on to the next item in the stack. A list is easier to manage than random little pieces of paper.

Finally, what about reference information. You just talked to your friend Tom who mentioned to you the birthdays of his two children, Biff and Buffy. You jot that information on a sticky note. Where are you going to keep something like that? Most people stick it to the wall with all the other sticky notes until it falls off on the floor.

I put something like that in Evernote. I have a notebook in Evernote called “Journal” and would have created a note with Tom’s name. Information about Tom and his family, along with important topics we discuss, would go in his note. It’s easy to search from my computer or mobile device. The next time you talk to Tom and mention Buffy’s upcoming birthday, Tom will think you have a mind like a steel trap.

It’s not hard to get organized. It’s a matter of making the little decisions that lead to clarity, total control, and peace of mind.

Most people are overwhelmed by the amount of paper and digital information in their lives. If you would like to get a weekly email designed to help you, join today. As a free gift, I’ll show you the secret to getting your desk clear once and for all. A few days later, you’ll receive my guide for setting up a digital task list using “Remember the Milk.”