Got piles? If you’re afraid to put all your papers away for fear you’ll forget to do something, you’re not alone. Welcome to the wonderful world of project management. Whether you realize it or not, each and every one of us is project managers. Whenever you work on a multi-step task, you’re in fact managing a project. A big key to project management success is managing all that paper so you know what needs to be done and have support documents at your finger tips.

Below are ten tips for keeping all your project paperwork under control so you can focus on the important stuff – getting those projects done.

decorative jumbo clothespinCoral project papers together

Whether you use a manila file folder, a three ring binder or a simple binder clip, be sure to keep all your paperwork for a single project grouped in a one place. This applies to short and simple projects like taking a special order for a client, to long and involved projects such as planning a new marketing campaign or business after-hours event.

Use tools that fit your style.

If you need to see it to know it exists, that’s OK. There are a number of products on the market today to help you keep things out and in view but also keep them neat, orderly and easy to access. Consider a traditional metal file sorter or a Standing Expanding File(TM) from russell+hazel(TM). A graduated sorter makes it easy to see every project folder. If you prefer a clear desk surface, keep your current projects readily available in a file cabinet or rolling file cart. When you’re done working on your projects for the day, simply tuck the paperwork away out of sight.

Keep active projects close at hand

If you’re using a file cabinet, keep your current projects in the top drawer on the right hand side (if you’re right handed) or in the top, left drawer if you’re left handed. If you’ll be storing active files on your desk top in a standing file, keep them within arms reach. The closer it is to access your files, the easier, allowing you to keep your paperwork under control and focus on the project tasks.

Limit project paperwork

Set up electronic files or bookmarks for your projects. Only print documents you’ll need to reference away from your computer, share with others or refer to often.

Label your project folders

You may be tempted to forgo this step if you’re working on a short term project. Maybe you’d rather not waste a file folder. But labeling helps you remember to put things back where they go and makes it easier for others to fill in for you while you’re out of the office. For very short term projects, consider using a binder clip and a note card to identify the contents of a gusseted file folder or use a clear folder with the project name written on the top sheet of paper. Both options allow you to reuse your file folders once the project is complete.

altered files with labeled tabs

Use consistent naming for project files

Be sure your electronic files and paper files are named the same for a single project. If you have co-workers who fill in for you while you’re on vacation or out of the office, use department or company wide naming conventions. This will help ensure your coworkers don’t miss a beat in your absence.

Use visual aids to track your projects

White boards help others in your business know the status of all your projects at a glance – again a huge bonus if you rely on others to perform duties for you while you’re out. If you’re a visual person, white boards allow you to see your whole project universe at once. Alternatively, you can create a project time line with action steps and due dates using Excel or a word processing program. Keep your project plan in a plastic sheet protector or print it on a unique color paper. This will help your plan stand out among the other papers in your project file for ready reference.

Limit active projects

If the decision is yours, limit the number of projects you have going at once. This is truly a case of less is more: the fewer projects you’re managing at once, the more you’ll get done.

Prepare for a smooth hand-off

If you’ll be handing off a project to someone else in your company, be sure to take great notes and communicate project details to your colleague. For example, if you take an order from a client that will be filled by a service technician, be sure to include a summary of key points from the conversations with the client, price quotes, client expectations, and so on. Your goal is for the project transfer to be seamless in the client’s eyes.

Close out your project before starting a new one

Once you’ve completed your project, discard your support documents. Keep the finished project or any reference information you know (for certain) is applicable to future projects (and aren’t available electronically.) Pitch everything else – and pat yourself on the back for a job well done!

P.S. If you’re productivity is hampered by disorganized paper work, hurry on into my Organize Your Paper Clutter online class. This self-paced online class shows you how to organize every type of paper in your home, which means you’ll get your projects done faster!

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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