In Get Organized, Life Management, Time Management, Tips and Tools

Do you come home from meetings with your laptop bag stuffed with expense receipts, phone messages, meeting notes, business cards, and informational material gathered on your trip? You have every intention of following up with your to-do’s and using the valuable information you’ve stuffed into your bag.

But you arrive home greeted by yet another pile of paper that accumulated while you were gone–and it looks infinitely more urgent than the good intentions you carried home with you. So the pile of papers stays in your bag. After several weeks, you pull the papers out of your bag and stuff everything in a file called “to do.”

Half of the battle with paper pile-up is deciding what to do with it. When you are tempted to postpone a decision about a specific piece of paper, ask yourself: “What am I going to know tomorrow that I don’t know today?” Clutter is postponed decisions!

The other half of the battle is in following through with what you’ve already decided to do. Use these following tips to help you make decisions and handle follow-up with the papers you gather when you travel:

  1. There are only three things you can do with paper: file it away for future reference, take action, or toss it. To make this easier while you are traveling, create some sturdy colored file folders for your briefcase (I like the plastic kind that don’t get dog-eared), and label them according to the next action you will take with each. For example:

(toss the contents & keep the file)

Data Entry/Business Cards
To do
Receipts (expense reimburse or tax deduction)

Personalize your travel file system with labels that reflect your next “action” steps.
Here are photos of what some travel files look like in a briefcase.
  1. For each piece of paper that requires action, ask yourself: “What is the next action I need to take with this piece of paper, and when will I do it?” Then make a note on your calendar to remind you to follow up, or place the note in your dated tickler file so you are reminded when the time comes.
  2. Remember that 80 percent of what goes in most files is never referenced again. Ask yourself, “What is the worst possible thing that could happen if I throw this away?” If you can live with the results, put it in your “TOSS” file. You can easily toss the contents of this file as soon as you get to the nearest recycling container!
  3. For each piece of paper you choose to file for future reference, ask yourself: “If I need this information again, what word will I think of?” Write this word in the upper right corner and put the paper in your “FILE” folder.
  4. Keep expense reimbursement or tax-deductible receipts together in your “RECEIPTS” file. Write on the receipt any information that is important to note, such as who you had lunch with. It will be easier to record the purpose of the expense when you file it rather than trying to reconstruct it later.
  5. Make a list of specific ideas you plan to implement when you return home, and keep this in your “TO DO” file. Prioritize the list at the end of your trip, and enter reminders of actions you plan to take on your calendar or in your tickler file.
  6. Write the date and circumstance on each business card you collect, and keep these together in your “DATA ENTRY” file. If you have promised to follow up in any way when you return home, note your commitment on the business card and in your calendar or on your to-do list so you will remember to follow up accordingly. When you get home, enter the contact information and notes into your contact management program.
  7. Be prepared to send thank you notes to people who have hosted you or assisted you on your trip.  The easiest way to do this is to set up a free account with SendOutCards, which enables you to create a real paper greeting card from your computer, tablet or smart phone and click SEND. When you do so, you can send a completely personalized card for as little as $1.17 (including postage within the USA). Contact me at  to get an account set up today. Learn more by participating in my free webinar, Relationship Marketing.
  8. Before you leave on a trip, reserve an appointment with yourself for just after returning–time to go through each of the files in your bag and act on them (file, toss, call, contact, mail, data entry, write, submit receipts, etc.).
  9. Keep Post-it Notes in your carry-on so you can write down the next action step to take once you have read something. Also keep and a highlighter pen with you to highlight important information. This will reduce the amount of time you waste re-reading materials to figure out why you decided to keep something and what you decided to do next. For example, if you tear an ad out of a journal so you can request additional information on a product, highlight the phone number and the name of the item you want to call to get more information about.

If you follow these steps when you travel, you will arrive home ready to face the pile of paper that accumulated while you were gone. But even more important, the papers you collected on your trip will be a real resource rather than another pile of postponed decisions.

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