Does managing paperwork as a youth worker or school chaplain feel overwhelming to you? Here’s 5 common mistakes that can get in the way of good organisation.

How many emails would be in your inbox right now?

Where are the notes for that program you’re running at the moment? Are they in a folder together, somewhere on your desk or rattling around in your head?

Who’s waiting for a reply to a text or email to get on with their own work?

What bills or forms are still sitting in your pidgeon hole at work waiting for you to submit them?

These questions aren’t designed to stress you out. In my article on getting organised in youth work, I talked about having systems and the space to deal with administration. If you’re feeling guilty about your answers, you might need to tackle these common mistakes in handling paperwork.

Get organised in youth work by dealing with the 5 common paperwork mistakes.

Getting your paperwork under control

The world of work is changing. There’s an ever increasing expectation of efficiency and productivity. Youth workers and school chaplains are part of this world of work. So you need to make sure your work practices are keeping up with those expectations.

In the last 10 years of working alongside and training hundreds of youth workers and school chaplains, I’ve found that people people are often the worst at managing their paperwork. And there are 5 big mistakes I see time after time.

Mistake 1: They don’t make time for it

Managing paperwork is one of those things that if you don’t do a little bit every day or at least once a week, it can run away from you. Book some sessions into your weekly timetable to sort through the papers and clear your email inbox. You should aim to get your inbox down to just 10 emails at least once a week. Delete, delete, delete!

Once you’ve dealt with an email that you need to keep, move it to a folder so it’s not cluttering up your inbox. Organisation is about having good systems and being ruthless.

Set up your desk with an in tray for papers that are waiting for your attention, just like your email inbox. Go through that tray every week and make sure you deal with the things that need paying or forwarding on to others.

Mistake 2: Not dealing with stuff once

Most people are masters at moving papers from on spot to another. You shuffle through the pile to find something, then you put it back on the pile and move on to another job. Get in the habit of picking something up once and putting it away afterwards.

Find a home for everything. Set out a bookshelf for manuals, program guides and policies. Make a folder in your filing cabinet for ideas or information you receive that you’re not ready to act on yet.

When you have information about a client, put that in your filing cabinet straight away. Don’t let it sit on your desk and get mixed up with other papers.

Mistake 3: Letting clutter build up

Everyone has more work to do than they have time to do it, so it’s natural that your office or desk can get messy. Make time to have a bit of a de-clutter at the end of each term. Bin the rubbish, put everything else away and leave things straightened up for the holidays.

If you have a lot of things that you no longer need or use, find a new home for them. Don’t hang on to stuff that takes up room but doesn’t help you do your job.

Mistake 4: Ignoring the big picture

Many things we do in working with young people happen in cycles. Some of the programs you’re running this year are likely to happen again next year, or next term. Events happen year after year too.

Build time into your programs and events for reflection. Jot down what worked and what didn’t work for each of your sessions, and what you’d do different next time. Put your notes for each session or your ideas for programs in one place so that you can just pull them out start from where you left off.

These systems help you to be efficient. There’s nothing better than knowing you just need to grab a folder, pull out an equipment list and you’re ready to go with a program.

Mistake 5: They don’t see it as part of their job

No matter how your role description is written, there’s a good chance administration is part of your job. Even if it’s not written in there, people who work with you will expect you to be efficient when dealing with paperwork.

Suppliers expect payment, in a reasonable amount of time. Not when the bill floats to the surface of your inbox. You need to submit forms for approval or apply for grants by set dates if you’re going to see your youth work prosper.

If administration isn’t your strong suit, then get someone to come on board and help you out with it. Whether it’s a volunteer or coworker, don’t let your handling of paperwork damage your reputation.

Youth work should be all about working with young people, but don’t forget that it’s also a role that requires some professionalism and organisation. If your paperwork is letting your down, then make some time to deal with these mistakes.

How do you manage the avalanche of paperwork in your work? I’d love you to share your thoughts below.

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