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As many small business owners know, the mountains of paperwork that come in weekly can seem insurmountable. Not only is paperwork tedious, but it can also be extremely time-consuming. Sure, you know you need to tackle it, but most people let paperwork pile up until it is near the point of chaos. Before your desk explodes with papers and junk mail, consider implementing a system that will allow you to organize your incoming and outgoing paperwork to help you get more of your time back each day. 

1. Create a System
Begin the organization process by setting up workstations for your incoming and outgoing paperwork. If you work from a desk or home office, buy letter-size trays and label them “IN” and “OUT” in as many categories as needed (billing, taxes, accounts receivable, etc.). These can be stacked on a file cabinet or directly on your desktop, but be sure they are placed somewhere where they will get your attention on a daily basis.

2. Assign Importance

Once you’ve got an office system that works for your paper flow, assign importance to each stack of paperwork. On the top of each stack should lie items that need to be handled immediately and which can be accomplished in three minutes or less. If something needs more attention, file it lower in the stack. If it has already been completed, move the papers to a permanent filling cabinet to clear more space on your desk.

3. Sort Incoming Paperwork Immediately

When the mail comes or a package is received, sort paperwork into appropriate files immediately. If you let things pile up, you simply make more work for yourself later. Take one break each day to sort mail as it arrives. This will help eliminate clutter before it starts. After all, one of the biggest problems people have getting organized is simply wrapping their brains around the mess. Less mess means less work to do to clean it up.

4. Shred, Shred, Shred
Invest in a good paper shredder. You can get one for less than $100 at any major office supply store, like Staples. As credit card offers and other unwanted financial paperwork comes in, you can shred it right away to conserve valuable desk space.

5. Delegate to Outside Agencies
If your tax paperwork is too overwhelming, send these documents directly to your accountant every month. Don’t even keep them in your office throughout the year, as they can get lost and will simply be in the way. You can use this same tactic for payroll and billing needs. If you use an online payroll or bill pay company, you can eliminate a ton of paperwork also. Many banks, such as Wells Fargo (Stock Quote: WFC), offer small business accounts designed to reduce paperwork by offering online statements, bill pay and payroll services.

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