Most of us feel overwhelmed by the pile of paperwork and information flooding our desks. We are not alone! Research shows the average person spends 150 hours per year looking for misplaced information. The ability to accomplish tasks or meet goals is hampered by disorganization. Imagine how much more productive and less-stressful work would be if you could find everything you needed, when you needed it. The only solution is to do SOMETHING. The next time a piece of paper ends up on your desk, ask yourself:
1. "Does my office work?"
2. "Can I find what I need?"
3. "Does it work for others?"
If the answer to any of these questions is "No," here are five suggestions to seriously consider:
1. Clutter is postponed decisions. Desks and filing cabinets become inundated with paper and computers with files because we fail to make decisions. We continue to put things off until all of a sudden, there is a mess in front of us.
In reality, there are only three choices. It's called the FAT System: File, Act or Toss. File means, "I don't know if I will ever need it, but I don't have the nerve to throw it out!" So you file it away. "Act" means, "The ball is in my court to do it or delegate it." So you put it on your task list and get it done. And "Toss" speaks for itself!
2. Practice the Art of Wastebasketry (on an on-going basis, and encourage others to do the same.) Research shows that 80 percent of what we keep, we never use, but how do you decide what you really need? For each piece of information (paper or electronic) ask these questions:
- Does this require action?
- Does it exist elsewhere?
- Would it be difficult to get again?
- Are there any tax or legal implications?
- Is it recent enough to be useful?
If all the answers are "No," but you're still not sure, ask one last question: "What's the worst thing that could happen if I didn't have this?" If you can live with the results, toss it.
3. Implement a fail-safe system for contact information. Many of the pieces of paper that clutter up your life are deemed valuable because of a name, address or phone number. Choose a system for tracking this information, use it consistently and make sure to back it up! For business owners today, a computer program, such as ACT!, to manage your client database is essential. Use the notes section of the program to track information you can use to build relationships, and the alarm feature to trigger important reminders and decision dates. This could be the deciding difference between you and your competitor.
4. Turn your filing system into a "Finding System!" If your filing system is not working, ignore it and start over! It is unnecessarily depressing and time consuming to spend time organizing information you'll never use. Clean out your most accessible file space, and put unused files into less accessible space if you are not comfortable tossing them. Begin your new system, and as you need information from the old files, incorporate it into the new system.
The key to the continuing success of your filing system is a file index a list of your file titles. You can create a file index with a word processing or spreadsheet program, or you can use Taming the Paper Tiger software (www.thepapertiger.com), which allows you to cross-reference your files, print out an alphabetical index automatically, and enables anyone in your office to find information in the files in five seconds or less!
Turn your briefcase into a "mini office." Carry file folders labeled by specific action. For example, "Act" is for papers you'll work on while you travel. A "Call" file makes it easy to use the 15 minutes before a flight to make one or two quick calls, which can impress your clients and save you from unnecessary "chit chat." "Discuss with...(your assistant)" contains papers he/she can handle when you return. "On-line" contains papers you need when you're logged on in your hotel room. Be sure to include "File" with a copy of your file index. As you get papers along the way that you want to file, check the file index for the keyword or number, and write it in the upper right hand corner. When you return, filing will be easy. (If you have a home office, consider hiring your 10-year-old!)
So, where do you start? A good place in most offices is to organize a "File Clean-Out Day" with all the members of your staff. Get plenty of trash bags, wear comfortable clothes and order pizza. The results will definitely be worth the investment in productivity and peace of mind both of which lead to more profit!
Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger series and co-author of the new book, "Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever." Her company, located in Raleigh, N.C., assists individuals, families and organizations to create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. She can be reached at (800) 427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com.