How To Slay the Paper Monster | Guest Post by Laura Mannino

Apr 1, 2013 by     4 Comments    Posted under: Guest Post, Marketing, Resources

The smartest thing I’ve ever done for my acting career was hiring Laura Mannino to do my mailers and support me with various admin tasks. Find out more about her actor assistant business on her website. Laura is a total pro on all things organization, and has some stellar thoughts on getting rid of all that paper that is consuming your life. Enjoy.


Buried Businessman

Is a pile of paper eating your desk? Is your workspace overwhelmed with mail, business cards, class notes, scripts and sides, receipts, bills, catalogs, to-do projects, birthday cards, coupons, that missing earring, or just random scraps of random? A pile of paper is really a pile of unmade decisions and paralyzed action. Each piece of paper represents an unanswered question or an unfinished task: “Do I still need this?,” “Remember to do this!,”  “Damn, I forgot to do this!,” “What was I supposed to do with this again?”

If you’re ready to battle that pile, here’s an easy step-by-step guide to break down that giant pile of paper by making small, simple decisions:

Step #1: Keep or Toss

Collect all of your paper.  All of it.  You’re going to make that one big pile into two smaller piles, the Keep Pile and the Toss Pile. Pick up each piece of paper and make only one decision: Keep or Toss.

The Toss Pile is paper that can either be recycled or shredded. (PS – Buy a shredder!)

The Keep Pile is only paper that you need to take action on or need to file: the business card of that director, the bill you need to pay, a receipt for a sweater you need to return, notes from the acting class you’re currently taking, etc.

Resist the urge to begin taking action on paper while you’re separating it.  Don’t e-mail the director, don’t go online to pay that bill, don’t find the sweater that goes with the receipt for a trip to the store later, don’t work on your scene for class.

You want to keep your decision making simple and straightforward during this process.

The only decision you need make right now is Keep or Toss.

Step #2: Write it and Toss It

Get the Toss Pile out of your sight. Put it in a bag to recycle or shred later.

Grab a piece of paper or a pad and a pen.

Write “To Do” on the top of your paper. You’re now going to transfer all the info that’s in the pile of paper in front of you into one, simple To Do List.

Your Keep Pile is basically a To Do List in a bunch of pieces: errands, phone calls, emails, household and financial tasks, etc.  We tend to keep paper to remind us to do something. It’s difficult to take action on anything when you can’t find the information you need.

Go through your Keep Pile piece by piece.  Look at the paper. What action do you need to take on this paper? “E-mail Rob, that director to set up a coffee date.” Write it down on your To Do List.

Do you still need that piece of paper or is all of the necessary info on your list? If all the info is now on your list, toss the paper. Remember, this isn’t the time to e-mail Rob the director about that coffee date. This is the time to transfer a pile of to do’s on to a single piece of paper that is easy to reference.

Step #3: Action or File

How’s that pile looking? Is it a lot smaller than when we started? Congratulations!

Does that long To Do List overwhelm you? It’s okay. Take comfort in knowing you’re in a better position to accomplish those tasks, get them off your plate and move forward on taking action in your personal and professional life. All your tasks are written down in one place. You don’t have to spend mental energy to remember to e-mail Rob or return that sweater. Professional relationships and sales won’t pass you by now because someone’s business card or that coupon was in the bottom of a pile.

Put the list aside for a moment. Look at your remaining piles. It should be paper that you need to perform an action or paper that needs to be filed.

An Action Paper should correspond with a task that’s written on your To Do List. An example of an Action Paper would be that sweater receipt, a coupon or Rob’s business card.

A File Paper is a piece of paper you need to keep for your records. An example of file paper would be contracts, business receipts, bank statements, medical test results, resources and reference material related to your career, finances or education.

Go through your remaining pile and break it down again into two smaller piles: Action and File.

Step #4: Paper Marriage

Take your Action Paper and put it in a folder and label it “To Do.”

Either staple your To Do List to the front of your To Do Folder or slip the folder into the pad of paper that your To Do List is written on. Your To Do Folder containing Action Paper and your To Do List should always be together. Put your To Do List/Folder in a place that you can easily see and access it like next to your computer or phone.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious or overwhelmed by the length of your To Do List, you can separate your list and paper into smaller “Professional To Do” and “Personal To Do” lists and folders

So now you should be looking at just your File Pile. Go through it one more time to see if there’s anything you can sacrifice to the recycling or shredder gods.

Break down the pile into smaller piles of matching paper:  financial, medical, home, car, work, school, travel, etc. If you already have file folders, file drawers or storage, then label and file away!

Closing Thoughts

Your desk is not a storage unit; it’s a workspace. When you’re not working at it, it should be clear of clutter.

When a new piece of paper comes into your life, bring it directly to your To Do List. If you have take action on it, write it on your list and either toss the paper or move it to your To Do Folder.

Store “To Be Filed” paper in a magazine holder. A magazine holder allows you to easily see paper while it’s temporarily stored in a space that provides limits. Once that magazine holder is chock full, it’s time to purge and file.

You can also use a “To Do” magazine holder to store action paper instead of a folder.

Resist the bulletin board. A bulletin board can become a pile of paper nailed to the wall.

If bills and bank statements are taking up your space, time and energy, I encourage you to take steps towards automatic bill payments and electronic statements. Here’s a helpful article I found on About.com: How Do I Set Up Online Bill Pay?

If you’re still overwhelmed about the amount of paper in your File Pile and uncertain what to keep, here’s another helpful article on About.com: Getting Your Financial House in Order (Definitely read the “How Long to Keep Your Documents” section.)

Finally: “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.”

Now go e-mail Rob about that coffee date!

Quick Summary:

  • Keep or Toss?
  • Is your Keep Paper an Action Paper or a File Paper?
  • Add Action Paper info on your To Do List.
  • Keep Action Paper in your To Do Folder or toss.
  • Keep your To Do List attached to your To Do Folder.
  • Separate your File Paper into smaller categories.
  • File your File Paper.
  • Keep your To Do List and Folder in easy reach.
  • When new paper comes in, decide: Toss, To Do, File.
  • Store To Be Filed paper in a magazine holder.
  • Once your To Be Filed magazine folder is full, it’s time to file!

Laura Mannino is an LA-based organizer and virtual assistant specializing in helping actors and other creative professionals.  For more about Laura’s services visit www.ActorAssistant.com and follow @ActorAssistant on Twitter for tips and inspiration.

4 Comments + Add Comment

  • This is seriously so helpful! I’m definitely a paper hoarder, which gets in the way of a lot of productivity. Thanks for the tips! Also, glad to see a new post on this site. Great, great, great.

  • It’s “slay,” not “sleigh,” but I do love this article. Thanks!! :-)

  • Laura, I really appreciated reading this. I struggle with my too-small-for-my-workspace desk, clearing it off only to watch it become a monstrous pile again. (It’s actually quite a while since it’s been anything other than a monstrous pile. Yikes…) This article presents a clear, concise, and approachable way to reengage the practice of bringing tidiness and order back to my home office. My first thought was that I want to print this out and take these steps as soon as possible, and I will definitely save this article for doing this in the future.

  • Before few months I also used to suffer by this paper monster thing. It is too hard to manage all the papers at one place. So I bought a cheap shredder. I just scan the important papers and shred them after that. Now this is easy to manage things and there is no risk of identity theft also.

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