HOW TO TAME YOUR PAPERWORK TIGER

Now, where did I put that piece of paper? Follow Stephanie Winston's advice and you may never have to ask yourself that question again. The New York-based organization expert says there are only four things you can do with a piece of paper:

You can toss it.

You can refer it to someone else.

You can act on it yourself.

You can file it.

Her chosen acronym for the process is TRAF - also shorthand for traffic. All paper must move, Ms. Winston says, and the sooner a decision is made about it, the better.

It's a problem of small-scale decisionmaking, she says: Every piece of paper requires a decision and a final destination. Too often, papers fall prey to what she calls the Scarlett O'Hara syndrome: ``I'll think about it tomorrow.''

Ideally, she says, mail and paperwork should be attended for a few minutes every day. If the amount is small, three times a week may do. ``The main thing is, you don't want to allow papers to build up to that point where you look at it and your heart sinks. You get discouraged. The easiest way to avoid that is to keep up to date.''

Files, she says, can be kept in open piles on a desk or in folders, according to each individual's style. If a clean visual environment is important to you, Winston says, use stack boxes and folders as you TRAF. If you prefer a look of activity and busyness, she says, paper piles may be the answer.

``The important thing is that the papers be processed,'' Winston says. ``The paper on a lot of people's desks are tasks, opportunities, requests, and information ... that they've just let accumulate....

``If you do keep stuff, that's fine,'' she says. ``But keep it in a way so that: a) it doesn't jam up your life, and b) you can find it again.''

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