Sorting your paper piles
As requested :)
The key is to get rid of piles right away instead of sorting into more piles. I buy cheap cardboard self-assembly magazine holders and I take them to consults. I then label them (I have blank laminated labels I stick on with bull-clips and write on them with a white-board marker - you can use a pencil!). I talk to the client about their main categories of files. Sit down and think about them. You'll most likely have something that looks like the following:
1.1 Medical (r)
1.2.1 Banking (a) & (r)
1.2.2 Tax (a) & (r)
1.2.3 Bills to pay (a) and then they become (r) when you've done the action
1.2.4 Claims to make (could go under medical?) (a)
1.4 Insurance (r)
1.5 Warranties (r)
1.6.1 New car? (a)
1.6.2 Renovations? that kinda stuff (a)
2.1 Marketing (a)
2.2 Finances (a) & (r)
2.3 Business development (a)
2.4 Research (r)
2.5 Legal (r)
2.6 Client information (r)
2.7.1 New logo? (a)
2.7.2 Website (a)
Now think about whether these categories fall under 'action' or 'reference' and label them as such. I have indicated next to each what they could be (I bet that confused you until you got to that sentence!!!). Basically, if you have to do anything, it's an action. If it's just to keep and refer to later, it's reference. Lots of things need one magazine holder for each because some is reference and some is action in the same category (eg, a receipt could be action if you have to enter it into the computer or it could be reference in the tax section, for example).
Now line them all up and start to sift through your piles, sticking each thing in the magazine holder it belongs in. For everything you put in an Action file, make a note on your Master To-Do.
Now, when all your piles are in the magazine holders, make a promise you'll never put any piece of paper anywhere other than it's correct home.
Make an inbox (I have a magazine holder as an Inbox - it doesn't allow me to overflow it!) and everything from that point on goes in it the second it enters your house. Make a time to deal with it every day or week, whatever suits you. I make it part of my 'finish work' routine (most of the time!).
Now, all the stuff that is reference can go in binders on bookshelves or filing cabinets (the magazine holders are just for sorting - temporary). Everything that is an action category gets filed close to you. I use manila folders in a step-file on my desk. So I have all my projects (workshops and website) and my recurring actions - things to mail, bills to pay, things to enter into computer, forms to complete and 'to be filed' (which is only to be used if you are disciplined about regularly emptying it!) all at my fingertips. In a magazine file I have my current client files, and on the other side, my inbox, date stamp, and receipt inbox.
The best part about this system is that you aren't getting a pile and sorting it into more piles, which then get muddled up because you had to leave it halfway through and do something else, then you have to sort them all over again. The magazine files *immediately* give you 1) a home for each piece of paper you have and 2) less space taken up of your horizontal space!
For those of you that are completely inundated & overwhelmed, that's okay. Just take a few pieces of paper of a pile each day and put them in your Inbox. Then process, action and file them in your next scheduled Inbox attack time (should be daily or a few times a week). Babysteps!!!!
Hope this is useful!