Learning how to process paper that comes into your home or office will help you stay organized, get things done on time, and give you confidence knowing you’ve got paper clutter under control!

I will teach you my 3-HOW questions that will help you do just that. I have these three questions on a printable that you can download here. Print it out and keep it with your inbox.

Learn how to process paper using only three HOW questions. Keep your paper organized and your counters clutter free!


Here’s a secret before we learn the questions: STAND UP.

When you stand up you are ready to take action. Stand in front of your Inbox or the pile of paper you are processing.

Set a timer.

Try this. We don’t want to be wasting our life away dealing with paper. Who has time for that? Get motivated and practice processing your paper quickly. Timing yourself will help you master this skill.

Hold the top piece of paper. 

When you have the top piece of paper in your hand, you are ready to ask the first question.

Question #1: How can I get rid of this?

This is your goal! If there is any way to get rid of this paper, you need to get it out of your life. Trash? Recycle? Shred? Out to others? Put the info in your calendar and toss?

Can you find the information on the internet? If yes, then get it out. If you actually need the info later you can do a search and I guarantee you will find a slew of information and won’t miss this paper.

Find any possible way to get rid of it so you don’t have to go to the next question.

But, if you are still holding the paper (because you couldn’t get rid of it) move to question #2.

Question #2: How can I get this done on time?

  • If you can do it in less than two minutes, do it right now.

This is why you are standing. Move. Get it done. The timer is ticking. 🙂

RSVP? Do it now.

Pay a bill? Pay or schedule it now.

Fill out a permission slip for child? Fill it out fast.

  • If it will take more than two minutes, enter an appointment in your calendar WHEN you will do it and put it in your action file.

Need to investigate an overcharge on a statement? Enter an appointment with yourself on Friday morning when you know you will be home. Place in TO DO folder in your action file.

Are you holding a siding estimate and need to discuss new siding with your husband to make a decision? Enter appointment for Saturday at lunch when you plan to be with your husband. Place the estimate in the action file in a folder named PROJECTS.

Holding an article you want to read? Place in your reading bin by your favorite chair and enter appointment on Tuesday night after you get the kids to bed to read for an hour.

If you are still holding the paper (because nothing needs to be done with it), move to question #3.

Question #3: How can I find this when I need it?

If you only need to keep the paper temporarily – less than 3 to 6 months – then store the paper in your action file. It might be the roster to your child’s t-ball team or the order form for a current fundraiser.

Some common folders for the action file are:

  • A folder for each family member. Keep the t-ball info and fundraiser forms in that child’s folder.
  • To Do. Any to-do items are here. The key is NOT to place them in this file until you have scheduled an appointment on your calendar.
  • To Read. Any smaller items you will read. Again, make an appointment when you will read.
  • Coupons. I prefer putting my coupons immediately in my car seat pocket in a folder but some clients like a file folder in the house.
  • To File. I will immediately file my things because my file cabinet is close to where I process paper, but some clients like to gather items here and file all at once.
  • Projects. Any current project information can have it’s own manila folder dropped in the Projects file folder. Once the project is complete you can discard the information. This works great if you are deciding on home paint colors, getting estimates for work, looking at pre-schools, etc.

If you need to keep the information longer than 6 months, place the item in your file cabinet. 

File cabinet files should be kept broad. Some examples are:

  • Each family member. I have another file for each family member. More permanent things are kept here like immunizations, current school year info, etc.
  • Taxes. I keep this folder in the front of the drawer. I drop any tax-related items in throughout the year. At tax time I have all my documents together and ready to give to my accountant.
  • Insurance. Keep all car insurance, home insurance and life insurance in here. If you  ever change companies you don’t have to make a new file tab.
  • Home. All utilities, mortgage statements, home association info, etc., is kept here.
  • Autos. I like a file for each vehicle. Keep maintenance records, titles, etc., here.
  • Investments. I keep all investments in one folder. It makes filing easy. I never have to change the file tab name. And, I rarely go look at the info but if I needed to I would know where it is.
  • Debt. Credit Cards. If you have debt or get credit card statements you can keep it all in one place.
  • Will. Keep a paper copy of your wills and last requests here. Also, create a paper with all account information and keep here in case of your death.
  • Important documents. If you don’t have these items in a safe, keep your marriage license, birth certificates, etc., here.

Remember, keep your categories simple and broad.

Keepsakes and Photos. Designate a location for each of these. We have a plastic bin in our storage room – one for each family member. Photo boxes (one for each family member) work great to drop miscellaneous photos in.

After asking those three questions, you shouldn’t have the paper in your hand anymore!

Use my 3 HOW Questions when processing your paper so you know exactly what to do with each piece of paper.

Download the 3-How Questions PDF here.

Pick up the next piece of paper. Repeat, starting with question #1.

Learn how to process paper using only three HOW questions. Keep your paper organized and your counters clutter free!


Beware of the following:

Don’t sit down, especially in front of the TV.

Stand up. Focus. Be motivated to finish as quickly as possible. Be ready for action.

Don’t move on until the paper in your hand is finished.

I see this often. A client won’t want to make a decision, maybe they’re not sure, so they grab another paper with their other hand. Or, they sneak the paper in a pile beside them…to decide on later? Don’t do it. Take a deep breath and make a decision. You’ll get better and better.

Start with your current paper. Gather it from around the house and put it in one pile. Stand up, start with the top piece, and ask question #1.

You’ve got this!

Learn how to process paper using only three HOW questions. Keep your paper organized and your counters clutter free!

Tracy Hoth