Paperwork – Getting it Organised

Last modified: March 12, 2019
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Estimated reading time: 11 min

Oh the joy of paperwork. If you’re like most of us, you will possibly have

  • a pile of post and letters from school on the breakfast bar or kitchen counter,
  • a pile on the dining table (things moved from the breakfast bar or kitchen counter when you’ve sifted through them),
  • a pile in the vicinity of your laptop (things moved from dining table when you’ve sifted through them), and
  • a pile in an over flowing box (bought in an attempt to get organised) to be “filed”; and let’s not forget
  • the pot of pens that don’t work.  The one you always grab a pen from, remember it doesn’t work and put it straight back in there!

There will, of course, be additional pieces of paper stuck to the fridge, sat next to the sofa and by your bed; not forgetting the letters and notes stuck in various handbags or coat pockets after you’ve been to yet another appointment.

As you wade through the various piles searching for that elusive appointment letter or report, you swear “I’ll get round to sorting this one day” but that one day never comes.  Something else takes priority, or you are just so exhausted after being awake for most of the previous night, that all you have the energy to do is curl up on the sofa to watch Homes under the Hammer or Jeremy Kyle.

Step One:

The first thing  – Don’t Panic.

The very thought of beginning can be so daunting; in fact the sheer size of the project can put you off even starting.  I had put this off so much, it was starting to take over the house and to be honest, I was really worrying about what needed doing.  There was so much paper, I was sure each piece brought a piece of work with it; so Homes under the Hammer seemed much more appealing.

Step Two:

This week, aim for just 15 minutes a day.  Set a timer.  None of us have lots of spare time but we can all squeeze 15 minutes in somewhere.  In that 15 minutes, grab a pile of paperwork and sort it into new piles (see, more piles of paperwork, that’s not too difficult is it?)

  • one pile for paperwork that needs action (appointment writing into diary, form to be completed, phone call to make, email to send, etc)
  • one pile for filing (IEPs, school reports, health appointment reports, DLA or benefit awards)
  • one pile for shredding or burning (old appointment letters, take away menus you know you will never use, envelopes, out of date coupons, etc)
  • one pile for anything to do with finances – receipts, bank statements, DLA renewals, child tax credits, Direct Payment – anything which involves money in any shape or form.  This also includes user guides and guarantees.
  • one pile of things to read (magazines, catalogues, newsletters, publications, leaflets you have taken away from meetings but never looked at, etc)

Do this for 10 minutes each day and then spend 5 minutes going through the paperwork for shredding or burning.  Check if it contains names, telephone numbers, email addresses that may be of use.  If so, add them to a contact list – we have produced a download if you wish to use that (see Attachments below)

You may also find it useful to write down when appointments were (if your diary isn’t up to date) and when the next appointment is due.  Eventually, these can be added to a list of “to chase” but for now, again, we have produced a quick download for you to use  (see Attachments below)

You should eventually have 5 piles of paper (or 4 if you have already shredded the ones you no longer need) and one sheet with contact details plus one with appointments.

Keep these to one side, safely out of the reach of children who scribble on anything and everything – usually with an indelible marker.  Each day, go through another pile of paper (just grab a chunk every time you have a spare 5 minutes and keep adding to the “to do pile”, the “filing pile”, the “finance” pile and adding dates to the sheet of old appointment dates and contact details to the contact sheet.

If you spend 15 minutes each day doing this, you should be left with 4 structured piles of paper, but if it takes more than one week, guess what?  You are not alone, so stop worrying.  If it takes two weeks or one month, just keep going.

Bonus – The Pot of Pens

Get that pot of pens and an old envelope.  Check which pens work and throw away the ones that have given up the ink forever!

Step Three:

So, how does it feel?  Have you cleared the piles from around the house, cleared out your handbags?  Can you see your dining table for the first time in months?  Are you actually using your breakfast bar to eat breakfast at?

Well, maybe not yet but over the next few weeks we will get there.

Have you burned or shredded all that paperwork that you didn’t need?  Doesn’t it feel great?  Did you find loads of pieces of paper that made you say “what is this?” or “Why did I think I would need this?”  I am always amazed at what I put to one side “just in case” I need it at a future date. I mean, seriously, why would I need a leaflet for the local fishing tackle shop when no one in my house fishes.

So, this week, working on the same 15 minutes per day premise, lets get to work on that “to do” pile.

The To Do Pile

To help work through this pile, we have created a download for you to use (see attachments below).

  • So, print this off (or grab your own “to do” book), grab your diary (if you don’t have one, either use your phone or you can print off free diary inserts).  Also, grab your list of contact numbers from last week and you can update that as you go along.
  • Go through the paperwork and make a note of what you need to do – phone, email, form, add to diary, etc.   Also choose three items for a pile called “Eat That Frog”**

You should now have a list of everything you need to do and what it is.

What next?

  • Anything that just needs to go in your dairy, add it and then add those items to your “file” pile.

**Eat That Frog:

These are the items you keep putting off.  A DLA renewal form or  a phone call that you think will be stressful.  We all have these on our list.  They are the ones that you continually work around and just add to the next to do list you produce.  So add those items to the Eat the Frog pile and at make a list of them on our download or in your notebook.  There may be more than three but choose the three biggies, the ones that play on your mind the most.

Have a look at your Eat that frog list.  Aim to clear at least one “eat that frog” from your list this week.  Always aim to do it as the first job on a morning and get it out of the way.  The rest of the day will be a breeze; you will feel like a burden has been lifted. Even if the frog was as awful to eat as you expected, the feeling of having done it and having it out of the way is immensely satisfying.

How to work through a To do List

  • Look through the lists, what can you do without having to find paperwork to go with it?  Perhaps a phone call to re-schedule an appointment or a phone call to chase up an appointment?  An email?  Anything that can be done without you having to find another piece of paperwork, highlight or put an X and then guess what?  Do it.
  • Have a look at the others – have you seen the paperwork you need as you sorted through the piles last week?  Grab it now and guess what, yes you’ve got it – do it! 
  • Each day start with a look at your to do list, and 3-2-1 it!
    • Choose 3 things that you have to do today (including one Frog) – Important and Urgent;
    • Choose 2 things it would help if you got done today (but it won’t hurt if it gets done tomorrow) – important but not urgent and finally
    • Choose 1 thing you would like to do today (but it wouldn’t matter if it got done next month) – not important and not urgent.

Other ideas for getting organised?

If you are looking for a way to have a to do list that you actually do – oh yes, we all have those lovely lists that we have set up but never done anything with, or the list we have on a phone app that we swore would be the one that made us more organised – so if you are like the rest of us, then try Bullet Journal.  This is a very popular method and there are groups on Facebook and online Forums all about how people use it.  It’s simple, you just need a notebook and it works well for many people.

If you are perhaps a lover of post-it notes, then there are a few blogs with tips on using these to become more organised – Jen Hewett’s guide to managing it all, One good Thing by Jillee and one of my personal favourites, the Online Millionaire – Post it Ninja

Step Four

Now, what are you left with?  Oh yes, that one thing that sends a shudder down so many spines.  The filing!

Filing is one of the only times, I believe, that labels are acceptable.  Labels for people are unhelpful and show a lack of understanding but using labels for filing?   Absolutely fine, in fact, they are essential.

Grab that pile of filing and let’s chat about some different methods.

First of all, it has to be something you can keep up.  There is no use in spending a day or so punching holes into paperwork to file away if you know that when you have finished today, the next piece of paper to come along for filing will just get added back to a pile because finding the hole punch and the right place in a folder takes time.

I know that lever arch folders just don’t do it for me.  I have lots around the house that I have purchased with good intentions but it fails quickly so the paperwork starts to mount up again.  However, I also know that lever arch files work brilliantly for some people.  I have a friend who has a lovely row of lever arch files with A4 file pockets inside (no need for the hole punch) and it looks lovely.  I have tried, honest, but I have accepted that lever arch files and me are never going to be a couple.


I invested in some clear folders from Staples or you can also use A4 file pockets like these from W H Smith.  If you use the file pockets, you can write the label of what is inside the pocket on the white part of the pocket.  If you use the clear folders, then buy a box of cheap stickers from any stationers (or supermarket) and use those.

Separate your to filing list into categories.  You will probably end up with lots but think of them as sub-categories.

Mine are something like this:

  • Child 1 – DLA
  • Child 1 – Statement
  • Child 1 – School letters
  • Child 1 – Child Trust Fund
  • Child 1 – Consultant Paed reports
  • Child 1 – SALT reports
  • Child 1 – SW report
  • House – Insurance
  • House – Phones – Landline
  • House – Phones – Debs mobile
  • House – Phones – Chris mobile
  • House – Phones – Insurance
  • Car – Motability
  • Child 3 – Ideas to try
  • Finance – Carers Allowance
  • Finance – bank statements (current),
  • Finance – bank statements – Kids, etc
  • Family – self esteem activities

Your categories will be different and relate to your life, not mine, but I thought a few examples may help.  As I go through each pile, I also write a list of useful contact names, references, telephone numbers, account numbers and similar to store in one easy place, before I actually file anything.  I use a large box, rather than a filing cabinet, which sits under a table so it is easy to access and also, because I use clear folders, I can file pieces away quickly.

Quick tip:  I find it easier to have files for the kids (with the exception of bank statements) under the child’s name.  This means when I am looking to renew DLA or reply to another “oh sorry you don’t meet our criteria” letter, I can grab all of the files relating to them easily.  I don’t have to go to a variety of places for the information.  However, remember filing systems need to work for you.  It is often best to look at a variety of ways other people do it and then choose one or two elements of each system that you think will work for you.

If you also work, whether paid or voluntary, you can use the same system for that paperwork.  I have a Bringing Us Together category, this includes things like Business Plan, Companies House, Project 1, Project 2, sponsors, etc.  I have a Chaos in Kent category (a personal blog) and a Festability category.  I keep my work related files in a different box, this also includes finances relating to any of this.

Quick Tip:  If you need to keep receipts but struggle to keep them organised, buy a cheap plastic photo wallet (like this one from Paperchase), label the plastic sleeves either by month or by subject (train, stationery, printer ink, etc) and store them in there.  You will thank me at the end of the tax year, I promise you.

Another paperwork filing method I want to try but as of yet haven’t – think of this as one of my “eat that frog” activities – is the 43 folder system.


Now, I have to sadly admit that I find this idea quite exciting.  I have considered how I could use it, for example annual review paperwork, DLA renewal, etc and I think this will definitely be something I have to tweak to make it work for me.

There are some people out there who colour co-ordinate their filing systems (honestly, I am not making this up) and have hugely organised filing cabinets.  There are also people who have paid a small fortune for a filing system that explains how to move your files on an annual basis. If that works for you, fantastic but I know personally I don’t have the time for anything too fiddly.  I did get the idea of using sub-categories from the coloured filing system though.

How do you keep on top of it?

This is the big question.  We can all spend a few hours getting organised but staying organised takes a different type of discipline or system.

c. Organizing Made Fun

c. Organizing Made Fun

We have a “family station” – this was an idea I borrowed from several American bloggers but one that really works for us.  This comprises a few magazine files (if you don’t have magazine files, then recycle your cereal boxes) .  Have one box as a “to do” box – (a school trip that needs a signature, a newsletter with some dates on that needs to go into my diary; one box for “filing” – bank statements, bills paid by Direct Debit and one box “to read” such as school reports, magazines, etc.  When my kids arrive home from school, it truly is Chaos in Kent and I don’t have time to sign papers, find £1 for a child to buy cakes for Children in Need, etc so I file them in these boxes as soon as they come home and then look at them properly after the chaos calms down.

I stick the useful contact number list to one side of the boxes and then on the other side I add a list of “important dates” which has birthdays, anniversaries etc.  That way I can see at a glance what cards or gifts I need to buy each month.

Once a week, I then go through the “filing” box and clear that, I also check that everything in the “to do” box is cleared and either thrown away, sent back to school or filed.

Some people have a little box for saver coupons, others have one for receipts, one friend keeps her receipt album in a box here – again it is what works for you,

The whole idea of this has been to help give you some ideas and some support through the minefield of paperwork.  We really hope that one or two of the ideas will help and over the next few months, we will be looking at other ways to get organised when living in the world of SEN and Disability.

The final aim is that you will have a bit more time for you.  Whether you choose to use this time sleeping, reading, bathing, swimming, writing, joining a group or meeting a friend for coffee is entirely up to you but imagine having that time for yourself, isn’t it worth eating a few frogs to get it?





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