7 Steps For Dealing With Overwhelming Paperwork

There are few things more horrendous than complicated, overwhelming paperwork.

A perfectly well person will still regard it with an eye-roll and a curse word, and couldn’t be less enthused about having to spend time extracting details, working out jargon and signing this-box-but-not-that-box. For someone who’s depressed, these tasks seem insurmountable. For someone who’s anxious, the worry of making a mistake somewhere can be nauseating. Unfortunately, us mentally poorly folk don’t get let off of this crummy paperwork business.

We have a plan though. We’ve got seven steps to get you through that overwhelmingly large pile of documents. It probably won’t be pleasant, but it will be manageable. Open up all the post you’ve been scared to open. Sort your junk mail from your Must Do This mail. Embrace its scariness for a minute, then roll up your sleeves…

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Step 1 – Choose a single document

Have you ever tried to do several things at once, then lost the thread completely and end up doing very little of what you set out to do in the first place? We’re going to eliminate this from the off. There’s a time and a place for multitasking (perhaps. We’re not actually fully decided on that one), but this isn’t it.

Pick the most time-sensitive document from your pile. Put the rest away, completely out of sight. This is the only one you need to focus on right now.

Step 2 – Set a timer

We’re going to employ a little trick called the Pomodoro technique. All this means is to work on something for a set amount of time, then take a break.

Grab some kind of stopwatch device – a phone timer is perfect if you have one. Set your countdown to ten minutes. For that ten minutes, you’ll be concentrating exclusively on your document. When the ten minutes is up, take five-minute break. Which brings us to…

Step 3 – Take frequent breaks

Don’t be tempted to miss those five-minute breaks! We’re doing this in manageable chunks to avoid burnout – a way that looks after YOU as well as getting your paperwork done and dusted.

Get up and stretch your legs, make some tea, close your eyes and breathe deeply… whatever you want to do. Just make sure you give your mind these little rests and recharge before picking up where you left off, setting the timer to ten minutes again.

Step 4 – Block read

Find something with a straight edge that is opaque (not transparent). A piece of card would be perfect. Begin reading from the top of your document one line at a time, using your piece of card to block off the text below the lines you’re reading, so you can’t see the rest. Do this all the way through the document – there’s something very reassuring about only seeing the progress you’ve made, rather than what you’ve got left to read. Also, this helps your mind literally focus on one thing at a time, making long or complicated sentences easier to digest.

Step 5 – Don’t be afraid to misunderstand

As you work through your document, use a highlighter (or a pencil that you can rub out if you need to give it back clean) to mark up anything that doesn’t compute when you first read it. Then move on. Don’t be afraid to just note that bit and come back to it when it feels natural – it’ll probably make sense further on in the document anyway. The likelihood is that your five-minute rest break is due soon and your mind is just a bit tired, or it’s genuinely an over-complicated sentence. In which case, you have our full permission to eye-roll and curse at it. We would.

Step 6 – Do the double check

Reached the end? Amazing work! Even if your timer’s only been on for a minute, take a break to celebrate. Then come back and check everything with fresh eyes – make sure you’ve re-read any highlighted bits to come back to, double check (or get someone else to double check) that you’ve signed any boxes and whether you have to attach extra documents.

We enforce this extra break because if you’ve been staring at something for a while it’s easy to miss mistakes.

Step 7 – Overwhelming paperwork be gone!

File it, put it in an envelope for posting, make it into a paper airplane… whatever it is you need to do with your important document, enjoy this final step. Embrace the sense of relief that comes with getting it sent to the right place. It’s out of your way and out of your sight. On to the next one, until you have no more left to think about.

Do you have any tips for handling complicated paperwork whilst battling depression?

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