Last week we talked about reclaiming some white space as part of a New Year reset. You put all those pesky loose papers into a box, and marked it 2020 Papers: your first Pile of 2021. 😎

It is a legitimate strategic decision to create and then leave a Pile. It’s creating space for new work, holding papers in a safe place, easily accessible and clearly labelled. You might say, job done.

However, I have a small pitch to make for turning a Pile habit into a File habit.

Cast your mind back to English at school and you’ll remember that a character’s setting in a book often represents their state of mind. Miss Havisham lives in a ruined mansion with a mouldy wedding cake, because she’s broken-hearted. Bilbo returns to his cosy Bag End from the wild Lonely Mountain, a changed Hobbit.

So what does your work Hobbit-hole say about your state of mind? When I have papers everywhere, mine says: not enough usefulness in all these ideas. Awkward.

Getting all my papers out of an indistinct pile and in the right place makes my mind feel….. smooth. Calm. As if my ideas are more effective when my papers are orderly. 👌

Ideally your filing system is so easy to access, you’ll just put things away as you go along. (I can share the set up for that another week, if that would be helpful – let me know!). But backlog does build up, and when that happens, this is what you can do: (because it’s EXACTLY what I do!)

  1. Get a glass of water ready. Processing piles is weirdly thirsty work.
  2. Put on music that helps you to concentrate
  3. Get the Pile
  4. Get out a post-it note
  5. Write on the post-it note: BIN / DELEGATE / TO DO LIST / FILE
  6. Stick it up on the wall right in front of the Pile
  7. Take a deep breath
  8. Pick up the first bit of paper from the Pile. Look at it. Read it.
  9. Read the post-it note: BIN. Can I bin this piece of paper? 

VERY IMPORTANT INSTRUCTION: Choose to bin most things. This is why it’s the first option.

10. If you’re not going to bin it (in defiance of point 9, you rebel) then go back and read the post-it note: DELEGATE

This means: Give this paper to someone else to handle. You might do this because there’s actions on there that they can do, or because they’re a natural Filer.

11. If you’re still standing there holding the bit of paper, then read the post-it note again: TO DO LIST

This means: write down whatever actions are needed from that bit of paper onto your To Do list…. then bin the paper (point 9 wins this time!). By the way, definitely don’t start DOING the thing on the To Do list. You’re too busy filing for that.

12. If you’re still holding the paper, part of you is thinking you need to keep it for some reason. So it goes in your super simple smooth filing system.

13. Take a glug of water and another deep breath. You’re doing it! Yes!!!

14. Pick up the next bit of paper.


15. When all is done, you get to BIN the post-it note. (Oh, its tragic fate was written from the moment it was created).

If I’m really behind with my filing – or you could say “ahead with my piling” – then I set a reminder to process just one piece of paper a day. Sometimes setting the bar really low for beginning a task leads to I may as well keep going. As usual, it’s activating – getting started – that’s the hard bit.

So there we go: that’s how I move piles to files, creating room for a new storyline in the process.

Let me know if it works for you!

See you soon,

Deana  👋