Article: Kathy Paauw

The Small Business Library

May 15, 2000

Too Much Paper in Your Life?
Trim the F.A.T.!

In the book, "Taming the Paper Tiger at Work," Professional Organizer, Barbara Hemphill, tells us that there are only three things you can do with paper: File it, Act upon it, or Toss it. Hence, the acronym, F.A.T. As you open your mail, keep this in mind and sort accordingly.


Reference items can be placed in a tray titled "To File."
Filing should be done on a daily or weekly basis, depending on the volume of material you accumulate.
Paauwerfully Organized will show you how you can find anything you file or store in five seconds or less, GUARANTEED!


Items that require action can be placed in your "Tickler File" to be acted upon later.

There are two components to a good tickler file system. Part of the system includes an accordion file with tabs for each day of the month (1-31) and each month of the year (January through December), followed by a tab for Future Years. The other part of your tickler system is made of individual folders labeled for specific and repetitive actions such as:

  • Pay
    A place to put your bills until they are paid.
  • Receipts or Expense Reimbursement
    A place to store your receipts until you submit them.
  • Read
    For things you don't have time to read now, but that you need or want to read later.
  • Discuss
    A folder to put notes for weekly meetings with the same person, or if you meet with several people weekly, you may have individual folders with their names on them.
  • Write
    For items that need written follow-up or answers.
  • Photocopy
  • Errands
    A folder to hold coupons, shopping lists, claim receipts, etc.
  • Call
  • Calls Expected
    A folder to put notes in for calls you are waiting on.

At my website at is a photo of a sample tickler file system. You can see that the front part contains the accordion file with 1-31 tabs, followed by tabs for the months of the year. I have also created a Future Years tab behind this (for papers to be handled in 2001 and beyond).

The red tabs are labeled for specific repetitive action to be taken, as listed above (pay, read, discuss, etc.). I recommend keeping this system in a desktop file frame or box, or inside a desk drawer.


Items which do not enhance your life can be immediately tossed! Unsure if you should toss an item? Ask yourself these questions:

  • If I need it later, can I easily get it elsewhere?
  • By the time I need this, will it be out-of-date?
  • Is it obsolete now?
  • Is it too late to do this?
  • Do I want/choose to do this? If not, find someone else to do it, if it's important.

Just as your body feels better without the excess weight of over indulgence, so will your office feel better when you learn to trim the F.A.T. before it becomes unmanageable!

Kathy Paauw, President of Paauwerfully Organized, specializes in helping busy executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs declutter their schedules, spaces and minds. She is a certified business/personal coach and professional organizer. Contact her at or visit her website and learn how you can Find ANYTHING in 5 Seconds - Guaranteed!