6 quick tips for managing paper

by ianmckenzie on February 6, 2012

Close your eyes and picture the Zen-like state of your desk in a paperless world. When you need data from the last quarter, you speak to your computer and a soothing voice responds with the information. When it’s time to pay the bills, you instruct your computer where the payments are to come from.

Now, look at the paper sitting on your desk, dressers, tables, shelves, filing cabinets, etc.

The ideal of a paperless office has been around for at least three decades. While individuals, such as Eric Mack, experiment with paperless solutions, or online services offer paperless solutions, paper usage has increased significantly.

In 2003, Canadians used a whopping 2, 867,442 tonnes of paper, compared with 1,198,100 tonnes two decades earlier. Source: CBC News

For whatever reason, you’re stuck working with paper. Here are some tips for managing your piles (paper, that is).

  1. Keep only the work at hand visible. If you’re working on the month-end report, have it in front of you. Other pending work should be stored in some form of filing system, which makes it easy to retrieve, but keeps it out of sight.
  2. Have a fixed time each day to process routine paperwork. There are regular systems that dump a daily amount of paper on our desks: mail, filing, circulating files, etc. Set aside a few minutes every day to make sure this paper dealt with and not left piling up on your desk.
  3. Keep large wastebasket and/or shredder near your work area. Some percentage of the paper you process can go straight to recycling or garbage: used envelopes, advertising brochures, last week’s cafeteria menu. Toss it immediately.
  4. Don’t use a bulletin board. It’s a burial ground. I have a bulletin board in my office, but I am ruthless about what gets pinned to it. If you can’t be consistently ruthless, don’t put one on the wall.
  5. Organize your stationery. If you have to keep blank stationery on hand, get some type of storage system. Not only does lose stationery add to the cluttered look, it ends up dog-eared, frayed and unusable.
  6. Get a notebook. Resist the urge to take notes on dozens of pieces of scrap paper, notepads and sticky notes. Find a notebook that works for you and keep it with you at all times. That way, not only will you have a single, neat source of all your notes, you’ll only have one place you have to look to find information.

It doesn’t look like paper is going away anytime soon. You will need to have systems to control your paper flow.

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