My older daughter is only in first grade, but the amount of paper she comes home with is staggering. Her bookbag is filled with enough papers that it could act as an anchor for a schooner if need be. Right now might be the pinnacle of school papers. Soon everything will be digital but it’s not yet, and in our culture, schools feel compelled to give information. It’s not always good information, but it’s information for information’s sake.
To this second point, consider the school lunch menu. Lunches at my daughters school are not good. On the spectrum of meals she eats, they fall slightly below leftovers but above a bad microwaved meal. I’m probably biased about quality of food – I did write a cookbook – but she never buys her lunch, yet the monthly lunch schedule is one that comes home anyway. Are there little foodies that weigh the decision to buy or pack based on what’s being served for lunch?
This plethora of papers – lunch menu and all – fall into one of four groups and here’s how I treat each.
Group 1. Just Junk
I heard this advice about opening the mail years ago, and it’s served me well, open your mail over the trash can. After school I go through my daughter’s bag with her in the kitchen adjacent to the recycling container. We immediately discard anything useless. This can include sport schedules we don’t need, school schedules we’ve already digitized, or the above school lunch menu.
Group 2. Your Spouse Should See
This second group includes things that your wife, husband, partner, or whoever you parent with should see. This includes artwork they can talk about or homework that’s been graded. This is also paperwork that explains what is happening at school like PTO meetings or fire drills. Stuff that’s good to know, but not important. After my wife sees this, these papers join the others to be reborn at the recycling center, probably as more paper for school.
Group 3. I Might Need This Someday
This third group is the stack that inspired me to write this post. You have these papers, like a monthly calendar of what they are doing, but don’t know if you’ll need the information. Take out your smartphone and snap a photo. For example, this is my daughter’s preschool calendar.
It’s also stuck to our refrigerator so having two copies might seem redundant, but the mobile version allows me to check and see what might be coming up in the future. Things like “Yellow Day” are important for a four year old and if I can scan this intermittently, then I’m less likely to miss something. Every so often I go through and delete all the unwanted photos from my phone and these get removed someday.
Group 4. I Will Need This Someday
The final type of paper that comes home from school. Though rarest, also the most important. These are things like school picture order forms, which not only include the day, but how and where to order pictures (thankfully, online). This is the order form for this year, ID removed. In addition to the access code, I can set a reminder in Evernote to make sure I order photos and help my daughter choose her clothes. There is the reminder notice in the bottom left of the picture.
Other handouts that get sent to Evernote include things like field trip information, special food requirements, or events I have volunteered for.
If group 3 and 4 seem redundant let me explain why. Last year I put everything into Evernote, but as handy as the app is, it still takes longer than just a picture. This time means that my attention is toward something that isn’t herding my daughters along to what they need to be doing, like homework or chores.
This system for managing school paperwork has helped manage our runway. If you can quickly get paperwork off your plate, it’ll be easier to get dinner on it.
Do you have a system for dealing with paperwork as it comes home from school? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter, @MikeDariano.