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Incoming! Bits & Pieces

In my past posts about managing paperwork, we’ve talked about sorting incoming paperwork in to categories of action items, reading material, and filing. This week, I want to address the third type of incoming paperwork – bits and pieces -- in more detail.

Incoming bits and pieces are the items that are smaller than a regular sheet of paper: receipts, sticky notes, business and appointment cards, gift cards, personal notes, greeting cards, and photographs are some perfect examples. They become part of paper management via wallets, purses, briefcases, and bags. These odd-sized pieces of paper are hard to reference later in their small form, so coming up with a way to easily access that information later is an important part of dealing with incoming paperwork. This is another area where you’ll have to find what works for you. I’ll give you suggestions based on my research and what works for me and most of my clients.

Receipts offer several unique conundrums. The most frustrating thing about paper receipts is that they FADE and become unreadable quickly. If you need to submit receipts for reimbursement or keep them for tax purposes it may be easier to photocopy the receipt, make notation on the paper and staple the receipt to the back of the page. If you try to handle receipts on April 14th every year you won’t like life very much. If you stash receipts in your action folder and deal with them weekly or monthly, I promise you’re eliminating some tax time headaches. Deal with receipts for major purchases in the same way and you’ll be able to find purchase dates, amounts, and add-on warranties much more easily. File the receipts with warranties and other proof of purchase documents.

My suggestion for loose (or sticky) notes is to keep a notebook to copy information into – or stick or tape the notes directly in the book. You can then make additional notes for follow-up activities next to the original without having to recopy. Some people have success eliminating the bits and pieces altogether by using a notebook for all small notations from the start. This is what I do – I call it my “brain book” and I use it for everything. I only write on one side of the page so I can tear it out for filing if I need to keep it. When the notebook is full, I shelve it for reference in case I need it again. (Read more about the my "brain book" next week!)

Appointment cards need to be added to electronic calendars or attached to paper calendars. Be sure to add details like addresses and phone numbers to your electronic appointments. Take the card with you if you prefer handling paper. They go in the “action items” category.

Managing business cards can be simple or complex, depending on your reason for collecting them. If every business card is a business lead, then you’ll need to talk with others in your occupational circle to learn the best practice. For others, it may be as simple as adding the new contact to your phone, rolodex, or Facebook friends list. Again, sort these into action items until you’re ready to process them.

Coupons and gift cards are the most neglected of the bits and pieces. I recommend keeping them in a small accordion file in your car or messenger bag. They are of no value to you if you’re at the store and the gift card or coupon is at home. Personally, I find I save more time and money by tossing coupons than by clipping, organizing, and saving them – but that’s me – you do you!

Finally, let’s think about personal notes, greeting cards, and photographs. If an item requires action – like a thank you note – put it with the items that require action. If the item is a keepsake or memorabilia, just pop it in with the filing for now.

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