Taking Control of your Desk with the TRAF System

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

Considering that we all spend a considerable amount of time in our home offices right now, it is more important than ever to keep this space as organized as possible. Since many of us have to struggle with constant distractions in form of hungry children, loads of dirty clothes piling up in the laundry room and barking dogs, we don’t need any stress caused by tons of unopened mail that clutters up our desks.

In her book “Getting Organized”, Stephanie Winston outlines a really useful system that I live by religiously since it helps me stay on top of bills and other paper items that used to take over my workspace. It’s called the TRAF system, which stands for TOSS, REFER, ACTION & FILE.


It’s pretty simple: When you take the stack of mail out of your mailbox, make it a point to walk straight to your recycling bin and TOSS all of the items that you never signed up for in the first place and those that don’t need to be filed. Your goal should always be to touch every piece of mail only once, so by discarding unwanted mail right away, you won’t have to deal with it again at a later time. If you haven’t already done so, sign up for paperless billing with all of your important accounts.


Once you’ve reduced the amount of mail to only the important items and items you need to hold on to, figure out if there is anything you could REFER to someone else (given you have someone else to refer things to). The general rule should be “if there is anyone who could do this to 70% as well as you, hand the task over to them”. Also, make sure to pass off the task right away instead of sitting on it for a while; just seeing it on your desk may give you anxiety.


ACTION items are documents you have to act on, such as bills, proposal requests etc and should be set aside in a clearly labeled “Action” folder if you cannot take care of them right away. This may go against the “only touch things once” rule but let’s face it, there is just not enough time in the day to take care of everything immediately and some things may just not be as urgent. If you want to take it to the next level, sort the items in your “Action” folder by urgency.


The last step is to FILE all of the items you need to hold on to for later. These may include tax receipts, loan documents and other papers you cannot easily recover from your Web portals later. You will notice that the list of items that absolutely need to be filed is rather short. Keep it that way!


Now get to work 😊

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