Paper can either support or hinder you in achieving your goals. RAFT can keep you from sinking and drowning in paper. Every piece of paper that comes to you will fall into four categories:

  • Read
  • Act
  • File
  • Trash or Recycle

Once you have sorted into these four piles, here is how you can further break down the piles:

Read

Set up a container for reading. A basket or bag with handles is ideal as you can move the reading wherever you are. Make sure the basket or bag is small enough to transport. The size will also set limits on how much reading you keep. As new information comes in, place it to the back of the reading. Always pull from the front of the stack so that the pile doesn’t become stale.
Maintenance: Schedule 15 to 30 minutes each day (or an hour or so on weekends) to catch up on reading. Trust that what you read will be retained and can be found again. What speaks to you now will be retained on some level. However, reading the same thing next week may not speak to you at all.
Boundary: Once the bag is full, there will be two solutions. Stop collecting materials to read or pull a handful of old reading out to make room for new. This helps you be more selective in what you plan to read.

Act

Place items requiring action in one specific location so you always know where to go for important documents. Write important due dates on the calendar.
Maintenance: Schedule time on the calendar for paying bills, making phone calls, etc. and then do it.
Boundary: When action items become too overwhelming, learn to say “NO” to time stealers. Schedule a day to catch up. Set a timer for 30 minutes, don’t allow any interruptions and accomplish as many action steps as possible in that half hour. Take a break and relax. Then repeat the process until you have things more under control.

File

There are typically three types of files – Current, Reference and Archive. All files should be contained in some type of folder and clearly marked as to what is inside.
Current files are things like receipts, projects you are working on now and so on.
Maintenance: Once you reach ¾ capacity, begin rethinking about what you have here. Have the projects been completed? Should files move on to reference or archive or are they done being useful and can be tossed.
Boundary: Set up a contained location like a file box with handles or a section of your filing cabinet. Reference files are things you get in and out of and refer back to throughout the year. Keep in mind that in most cases 80% of what is filed will never be needed again. This means you only need about 20% of the paper, but finding that 20% will be very difficult wading through the other 80%. Be vigilant about what you allow to go in your reference files.
Maintenance: When the filing cabinet is ¾ full, set aside some time to rethink what is here and purge.
Boundary: Set up a filing cabinet that will hold your reference files.
Archive files are things that you are legally or financially obligated to keep. Ball State back-up files probably fit here. These are considered in the deep freeze and not anything you need to look back through unless prompted by the IRS or other entity. These make perfect sense to be in your off-site storage.

For guidelines on how long to keep financial records, go to BankRate.com, or google “how long to keep financial records.”