Sort your paper with The four Fs

Struggling to manage the paper in your day? You need a simple system to organise your paperwork. The four Fs involves making one of four decisions about each piece of paper that’s piling up around you: finish it, forward it, file it or flick it.

It’s a super fast way to get organised and get back in control of your paperwork.

1. Finish it

This category is for any work in progress. It includes current things in three main categories: finance, projects and correspondence. Finance covers bills to pay, health insurance claims, unchecked lottery tickets, a tax return in progress and receipts for items to be returned. Projects might be any work to do or creative projects on the go, education or professional development assignments, personal projects and upcoming events. Correspondence will be any forms to fill out, drafts of letters or unwritten birthday cards.

2. Forward it

This is for the paperwork that needs to leave your space. It’s paper that doesn’t belong with you any longer. Examples include forms you’ve filled in that need to be sent elsewhere or something you’ve borrowed that needs returning. Anything that is no longer useful to you but that you know requires action or is of value to someone else falls into this category.

3. File it

Likely to be the largest pile, this category will contain all the documentation you need to file for future reference. It’s paperwork that you absolutely have to keep. Again, there are key categories like finance, correspondence and information/resources. Finance includes bank statements, paid bills, credit card statements, mortgage or loan information, donation receipts, receipts for major purchases, memberships, insurance paperwork, employment contracts and motor vehicle registration. Correspondence includes letters or faxes you need to keep. And information/resources includes business cards, warranties and equipment manuals, travel information and maps, study materials, creative ideas and professional memorabilia like certificates.

4. Flick it

Make friends with your bin! If you can replace the paper, for instance a print-out from a website or a brochure for something you might do, get rid of it now.  Toss it out! This will be one of the biggest piles of paperwork and should include anything you’re not sure about. If in doubt, toss it out. This pile includes unwanted receipts, out-of-date price lists, junk mail, newspapers, information on past events, newsletters and loyalty program brochures, out-of-date information, old cards and letters and excess stationery.


  • You’ll need a Texta, a stapler, large paperclips and a large flat space to work in. Use your stapler or large paperclips to keep like items together; for example, a two-page letter and multiple pages of a bill. Any document in an envelope should be removed and opened before sorting. If you’re able to, work on the floor to organise your paperwork.
  • Label four piles: finish it, forward it, file it and flick it. Make flick it (your recycle bin!) the closest. Grab a pile of unsorted paper and place it right in front of you. Take the top piece of paper and decide which of the four piles  to put it in. Stay focused on the task at hand, and make a decision about one piece of paper before moving on to the next. This will help you handle each piece of paper only once.
  • The four Fs is a decision-making tool. So unless the paper you come across in the course of sorting will save a life, don’t act on anything straightaway; stay with organising your paperwork into piles for now.
  • If you have many piles of paper to sort, allow 15 to 30 minutes per batch. As a very rough guide, a 10 centimetre pile of unsorted paper should take about 20 minutes to process.
  • Finally, keep only what really counts and don’t create a ‘not sure’ pile. I promise that every piece of paper you own will fall under one of these four categories.
  • When you’re done, recycle your paper and/or shred anything that is sensitive.

My challenge to you is this: If you can identify any piece of  paperwork that doesn’t fall into one of the four Fs, post a comment. I’ll help you decide which category it can go in.

This ‘recipe’ is is one of 42 from my best selling book: SORTED! the ultimate guide to organising your life – once and for all. Please visit our web store for your personally signed copy.


16 responses to “Sort your paper with The four Fs

  1. do you have a good way of destroying paperwork before you dump it, so no one can read your personal details? i shred it, but i guess a determined person could piece it back together and read it if they wanted to.

    i used to burn it, but no longer have those facilities.

  2. Shredding is ample Robin – I think it would be near impossible to piece a shredded item back together. the best kind of shredder is “confetti” style, rather than the long, skinny strips.

  3. Hi Lissanne
    My name is Nic and I’m a hoarder! hehe
    I bought your book SORTED recently and I LOVE IT TO DEATH!!! I have finally admitted that I keep things that just clutter up my place. I don’t buy lots of unnecessary stuff I just don’t like being wasteful (thanks Gdad!) and therefore rarely throw things out. I have a spare room I could barely get into until now, I have a long way to go but have made a great start thanks to your book. I have used the empty A4 paper boxes I was keeping for something useful to set up the four F system and so far so good. It’s a huge job but am taking it one step at a time and every time I lose motivation I go back and re read a part of the book. Rewarding myself along the way is working too, hehehe. I am going to buy more copies of your book as gifts now too.

    With the shredding thing, I discovered the local pet shop loves the shredded paper and I’ve been taking it to them in huge garbage bags full. Just make sure there are no staples and preferably no small pieces so they don’t eat it!

    THANK YOU for doing what you do, it is helping me in so many ways!! xox 🙂

  4. Nic – you are doing so well! So proud of you! I love the pet store tip too … and please, keep up the good work….

    whooo hoooo! decluttering and organising feels grand, doesn’t it??

  5. Thanks Lissanne! The more I do the more wonderful it feels, definately!

    I met a girl the other week and was raving about your book and it turns out you had been at their house in sunny Seaford just days earlier helping them SORT, they said they loved you and had a great time!! 🙂

  6. I have a similar system (when I use it) called “do, post, file or bin”.
    I use four wooden clothes pegs each with one of these words written on it. Each piece of paper that comes into the house gets clipped into one of the pegs until it’s ready to move on. The “bin” peg gets emptied every time I finish dealing with a bunch of paper. The system works when I work the system. Corny but true.

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  8. Hi Lissanne,
    It sounds like a great system. Thank you for sharing. Just a question about the File It pile. What do I do with this pile as it can be big and overwelming at times? I’m also a teacher. Do you think that teachers should have a 5th pile for school filing which is separate from personal filing? What’s the easiest and quickest method? Thanks so much.

    • Hi Mel!

      My book, SORTED! the ultimate guide to organising your life – once and for all talks a bit more about pre-filing as a strategy. Feel free to check out a copy at the library or to purchase a signed copy from our webstore. If the filing pile gets too large, start FILING! And yes, it’s perfectly ok to have two filing piles (one for school and one for personal). Do hope this helps 🙂

  9. Hi Lisanne, I would love some advise about how to keep receipts – from the big items with a warranty through to clothing and everyday grocery receipts. What do you suggest as this has always been a problem area for me.

    • Hey Joanne, Angelina’s idea (below) might suit you, but the first trick is to Flick any receipts that don’t matter – for example, unless you have a kitty/household budget, do you really need groceries receipts?

      Receipts for major purchases can be kept in one file, as can clothes or personal purchases, but you will need to cull the latter regularly. After all, if you’ve worn the cardi for a year and it’s not proven faulty, you won’t be needing the receipt!

      TIP: Most people don’t deal with receipts regularly enough. The “problem” then comes from a massive cache of them that’s overwhelming to organise. I deal with receipts DAILY, yes, DAILY! It’s this simple: they all have homes, so I put them away.

      Hope this helps 🙂

  10. Hi Lisanne, we use a box system for receipts. I have an attractive cane basket which can fit a smaller shoebox inside. All small receipts are tossed in the smaller box and the larger receipts and statements go alongside. If you need to find a receipt it simplifies looking for it. At tax time we sort through into relevant health, vehicle etc categories which doesn’t take long and these are then filed in a document box along with the tax return. Day to day it is quick and easy because all you have to do is toss all receipts into the basket so there is less chance of losing a receipt if you need to return something.

  11. Hello Lisanne, I run a business from home along with looking after domestic finances. After many years and lots of trial and error I have a spike each for business and domestic receipts which stay in reasonable date order when used regularly. I try to have at least a monthly session checking these against bank statements, entering details in MYOB and immediately file those we need to keep into lever arch folders. For me it is a trap to park them somewhere else at this stage rather than filing, shredding or recycling.
    I have found your book immensely helpful and have lent it or given it to friends and family who, like me, struggle to jettison anything potentially useful or wasteful.

    • Great to hear, Sue! So glad my book helped, it was certainly written for peeps who run businesses in mind 🙂

      And yes, like mentioned in my book, a spike is a clever way to make sure nothing goes missing! It’s an effective place to put the little critters.

      Keep up the good work!

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