We are all knee-deep in paperwork these days, despite being promised years ago that the paperless era was on its way. The advent of the personal computer was being cited as the way forward; we would be able to scan and store all our documents, and never again need to commit anything to paper.
As we all know, this state of bliss did not materialize and, if anything, the paperwork that everyday life generates has increased beyond anything we could have predicted. Running a farm today needs to be as organised a system as that of a high-flying finance company. Not every home has room for an office so to avoid chaos and confusion, we have to adapt with what space and storage facilities we already have to help keep our affairs in order.
For those households with the space for an office, a proper office desk (complete with filing cabinet), can ensure that paperwork is appropriately filed in order to make it easier to deal with everyday. Create enough categories so that every piece of paper that comes into your home can be filed, and at the same time make sure that they are instantly at hand when needed.
When space is restricted, other methods and systems have to be explored, and there are many inexpensive ways to do this. The cheapest way is to equip yourself with a large box (which should be as wide as a standard file), lots of file-sized envelopes (in different colors if possible), a couple of marker pens, and some address labels. To go with this system, a shredder is a very useful piece of equipment; keep it on hand when you are dealing with your paperwork and it will become second nature to shred those documents that carry your name and address, but do not need to keep. Keep another smaller box handy too, this will be used for collecting all the junk mail that does not need shredding, just recycled.
Sort your mail as soon as it arrives by taking it to wherever you set up your paperwork station. Open all letters, keep those that need your attention, shred what you do not need, and dump in the ‘recycling’ box all the superfluous junk and flyers that seem to accompany the mailman everywhere he goes.
Using your marker pen, label each large envelope with a category, say, ‘Utility Bills’, and put all the paperwork related to that category inside. You may find it easier to use an envelope for each utility separately. To make your filing system simple to operate, label each envelope in the same place, maybe in the top right-hand corner, so that finding the one you want doesn’t take too long. The idea is to make filing and finding everything as easy and as time-saving as possible.
You will soon find that your collection of envelopes grows as you realize how many categories your farm and household really has. You may even need multiple boxes depending on the size of your house and farm – one for general household paperwork, another for family-related categories, one for the vet, one for the farmers market, and so on.
Here’s a tip: keep an in-tray on your desk where things that need immediate attention go, and deal with these as soon as you can. A ‘to-do’ list on your bulletin-board, alongside a calendar, will help you keep on top of things. There’s nothing worse that finding you should have dealt with something urgent a week ago, and having to scrabble around in a panic looking for that vital piece of paper! Once a week, go through your in tray and sort out the paperwork that has accumulated in it during the week, filing or shredding as you go.
This is the a great start to an efficient system, and you’ll find that you will soon adapt it to according to your own particular needs and circumstances. For instance, it may help you to keep handy a record of the addresses and telephone numbers of all the utility companies, together with your account numbers and so on, in case you need them in an emergency. Another useful tip is to keep a supply of blank envelopes and stamps with your filing system, as well as some pens, paperclips, a stapler and a hole punch. Keeping all these items at hand will make dealing with the paperwork far less of a chore and something you may even end up looking forward to, instead of dreading.