Desktop Paper Management

It can feel like we spend more energy managing papers than students. Apply this simple technique an take back control of the paper nightmare.

The Three-Tray System

Papers need a place to be kept until you can work on them. Use the three-tray system to do so.

Keep two stacking trays on your desktop.


The top tray is for ongoing items that require you to do something. Call someone, fill out a form, or prepare notes for a meeting.

The bottom tray is for charts or papers you use on a daily or weekly basis. Homework check in, parent contact list, or daily schedule.

A third tray should be set up somewhere else by your desk. This is the “Must Go” Tray. This is for anything that you need to bring somewhere outside your room. Papers to copy, book to return, or your lunch to the staff room. By putting everything that needs to be delivered in one consistent location you develop the habit of always checking here every time you leave the room.


Papers that need to be filed should be done so immediately once you are done with them. It’s ok to take 30 seconds to put a file away while students are working. If are busy teaching it can sit on the top tray temporarily but MUST be put away before you go home each day. Otherwise one paper instantly becomes fifty.

These trays are only for your paperwork. Student work has its own location. (See additional blog posting.)

Limit what comes across your desk.

Another key component for having the space for managing papers is to control what you put on your desk.

Don’t automatically bring back everything in your mailbox to your room. Go through it right there. Most items can be quickly tossed like catalogs and flyers.


Some items just require a signature or to fill out a short form. Do those right there and deliver to the proper mailbox. If you don’t have time to go through the papers then leave them and come back at the end of the day to compete the task.

If someone hands you a book or file, don’t sit it on your desk, put it away.

Don’t eat at your desk. Keeping a drink there is fine but your leftovers from lunch, no. Even if it is a working lunch, save one minute before the kids come in and put the food away.

Papers don’t have to take over your desk or your entire day. Streamlining how you handle them will save you time and your sanity.

© The Uncluttered Teacher

If you would like more organizing tips check out my best selling book The Uncluttered Teacher.


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