6 quick tips for managing paper

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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How to Set Up Your Personal File System

Whether we like it or not, paperless systems are slow reaching mass acceptance. Unless you work for a company that has invested in paperless processes, you likely see loads of paper coming across your desk.

How do you deal with it? You could explore a personal paperless system. However, if that’s not workable for you right now, make sure you have a good filing system in place.

When building you system, consider these factors:

  • Don’t be too logical. It’s your system, and no one else will be using it. It only needs to make sense toyou.
  • Keep it simple. Use a limited number of categories. You may find the these five to be adequate:
    • Projects – files with information related to different projects you are working on.
    • Instant Tasks – folders on little jobs to fill in your time when you have a few minutes. Perhaps low priority letters to be answered, or general interest articles.
    • Self-Development- folders related to training: books, articles, etc.
    • Ideas – items you wish to investigate further to improve your operation.
    • Reference Information – a resource for different things you are involved with. Keep separate folders by topic and refer to them when you need statistics, examples, quotations, etc.
  • Colour code you files. Use colours to highlight priorities within each category to draw attention toyour most important items. This is easily accomplished by using different color highlighters and marking individual folders.
  • Schedule a regular filing time. Keep your filing current so time won’t be wasted searching for an item.
  • Purge! Clean your files periodically to keep the volume of material to an essential minimum. This also will reduce time going through files when you are looking for something.


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