In organizing, sometimes paper beats everything

March 12

Although electronic devices are taking the place of paper in many ways, paper is not obsolete. In fact, writing things down helps many of my clients remember important dates and tasks. I do spend a lot of time helping people eliminate piles of paper, but not all paper is problematic. If you use a paper calendar or notebook and it works for you, stick with it. Just follow these guidelines to make sure you’re using the paper effectively, in combination with your smartphone or computer.

To-do lists

There’s nothing like literally crossing something off your to-do list. If you rely on paper to keep track of tasks, use a small notebook instead of random scraps of paper or sticky notes. A notebook keeps everything together and lets you go back to reference old tasks if necessary. Update your to-do list daily and rewrite it entirely once a week. Carry the notebook with you so you can add tasks as they pop into your head. If you use the tasks and notes features on your phone or computer, be sure to consolidate your paper and electronic to-do lists at least once a week.

Calendars

Electronic calendars are great for keeping track of important dates, meetings and activities while we’re on the go. But the act of writing an appointment on a calendar is a proven memory aid, which is why so many people prefer paper for scheduling. To make a paper calendar work well, keep one master calendar to avoid overbooking and update it with new appointments immediately, if possible. If you’re not carrying your day-planner with you and a new appointment arises, send yourself an e-mail or make an electronic note, then add it to your paper calendar when you get home. Wall calendars are great for keeping the whole family informed. They provide a visual map of the month ahead and are helpful for explaining to children what is happening when.

Notecards

Almost all of us communicate with friends and family through e-mail, but a handwritten card is still special to send and receive. Store greeting cards and notecards in one place, so you’re familiar with what you have on hand. This will prevent overbuying. Keep your cards accessible, preferably near the place you process mail so you can find, write and send your cards easily. You can even put return-address labels and stamps on envelopes so you can get the card all the way to the mailbox without any deterrents. If you like to keep cards that you or your children receive from relatives and friends, find a central location and use a basket, bin or box to put them in. At the end of the year, go through the box and discard those you no longer want to keep. Move the remainder to storage elsewhere in the house and label the container accordingly.

Address books

Electronic address books have made life so much easier and have largely replaced paper address books, even for the least technically inclined among us. We no longer have to remember phone numbers and addresses because they are all available to us at the touch of a button. But they work only if you take the time to input updated information as you receive it. When someone hands you a business card or you receive a card in the mail with a new return address, take a moment to enter the information into your electronic device and then toss the paper. You will thank yourself later. Back up your device at least weekly, and print out your address book once a month so you have a hard copy in case your electronic device crashes or gets lost.

Miscellaneous

People tell me almost daily that if they don’t see something immediately in front of them, they forget about it. Keeping things like paper party invitations, important school or doctor appointment reminders and sports schedules displayed where you will see them is totally fine and is much better than throwing them into a stack on the kitchen counter or dining room table. When you have a minute, input the dates, times and locations into your computer or phone. To keep your bulletin board or refrigerator looking neat, take 10 minutes every few weeks to make sure the items posted are current.

Our phones and computers are invaluable tools for almost everything we do, but sometimes going back to basics and keeping things simple is the best organizational tool.

Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at nicole@neatnik.org.

Chat Thursday at 11 a.m. Rachel Strisik Rosenthal, a Bethesda professional organizer, joins staff writer Jura Koncius for our weekly online Q&A on decorating and household advice. Submit questions at washingtonpost.com/ home .

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