I had a true ah-ha! moment a while ago and it wasn’t a pleasant one. I realized a system I had in place was simply not working. It was no longer explicable and definitely not efficient. Here’s how it went down…

I had allowed my paper filing to pile up because a huge project I have been working on had taken priority. No problem. So, I tasked my assistant with filing three months of papers – not just her usual single month. She proceeded to follow the instructions in my Procedure Manual, each step having been written systematically. After all, consistency is the key to organization. I want to know exactly where every document is should I need it instead of having to waste time and energy looking for it. Efficiency is paramount. All tax receipts need to be clipped behind the Taxes cover page, all receipts reconciled against the business credit card statement and paper-clipped together in chronological order, all transactions entered in the appropriate Quickbooks fields, and so forth. 

When I glanced back at my assistant 10 minutes later she was sitting cross-legged on the floor with piles of papers sprawled everywhere! She looked like the center of a gigantic pinwheel with white spokes pointing out from her in every direction. “Ah-ha!” I felt pure annoyance that a giant pinwheel had taken over my office. While for years my old filing system had worked really well to help me maintain organization for a long time, that was no longer the case. I realized I had not taken time to re-evaluate what parts of the system were and were not working as the years went by, the types of documents coming in became more varied, and the amount of papers increased significantly. 

I proceeded to pinpoint the following annoyances:

  1.  I am receiving way too much snail mail paper which needs to be dealt with constantly
  2.  My assistant was spending a ton of valuable (and costly) time organizing and filing my papers each month
  3. I spend a lot of money on ink printing out online receipts to be filed
  4. Part of a tree was cut down just so I could print receipts for filing
  5.  In order to make room in the filing cabinet for all of next year’s documents that will be coming in, I have to find a place for all of last year’s documents but don’t have space
  6. I don’t have envelopes large enough to house my abundance of last year’s tax receipts
  7. Nor do I have rubber bands large enough to bind them together

Fixing The Failed System

We decided that due to a lack of space, higher labor cost, and wasting of time, ink, and paper, it was time to go paperless. We brainstormed how to transition to paperless and determined the following:

My monthly personal statements can be emailed or easily looked up online instead of mailed. Therefore, everything that can be switched to a digital-only format should be (e.g., gas, water, power). 

I will start filing emailed receipts electronically instead of printing them out for my assistant to file away. So, everything that arrives to me in digital format should stay in digital format (e.g., Amazon and Microsoft).

Some bills and receipts do not have a digital option but taking time to scan and file them electronically would be inefficient. I can’t just throw them away either because Uncle Sam might decide to audit me years from now. Therefore, everything that arrives to me in paper format should stay in paper format (e.g., Sam’s Club, Starbucks, Chili’s, Office of the County Treasurer).

Although we determined my goal of going entirely paperless is not possible, my overarching goal is to be efficient in my filing – not to be void of any paper. After adding the procedures we created to my Procedure Manual, we attacked our new system with a trial and error mindset over a period of three months. We figured out which elements were working and not working, brainstormed solutions, and made necessary tweaks. My monthly filing procedures now take less effort, money, and time which, compounded over time, add up to lots of effort, money, and time that can be put toward better, more productive use.

It took the visual of a paper pinwheel taking over my office to realize my filing system needed an overhaul. While it worked well for years, I had failed to re-evaluate my filing system as my business grew, purchases increased, and incoming papers tripled. As a real estate professional, your business is constantly changing. You have to evaluate your underperforming and inefficient systems and look for creative solutions to improve the way you operate. A slight change in operations could make a world of difference in your productivity!