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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7 Tips for Effective Email

There is something about e-mail that fosters poor communication habits. Users see it as a form of instant communication and therefore, doesn’t require the same care and attention that a letter might.

For many organizations, e-mail has become the preferred means of communication, both formal and informal. Here are some tips to make your e-mail as effective and efficient as possible:

  1. Use short paragraphs. E-mail is generally read from a computer screen. Keep your paragraphs short –50 words or less– to ensure maximum readability.
  2. Get personal. Use second person terms. Words such as “you”, “your”, and “yours” let the recipient know you’re thinking of them specifically.
  3. Don’t send spam. This includes forwarding every bad joke and poem your second cousin sends you. People don’t like receiving junk paper mail at home and they don’t like the electronic version either. If you’re building a new relationship with a customer, don’t bury them in your sales spam.
  4. Check spelling and grammar. You should invest as much effort in checking the content of e-mail as you do any other written communication. A sloppy e-mail message will communicate negatively about your professionalism.
  5. Include a signature section. Most e-mail software will automate this process for you. Your signature should include your name, job title, contact information, and company name.
  6. Respond efficiently. Develop at set of personal rules for processing your email in a productive way. Read:  @ 43 Folders
  7. Ignore the above tips. If you exchange a large number of messages with a particular co-worker, create a set of rules to optimize the way you each process e-mail. You can develop short cuts and templates that bypass some of the above tips and steps because you have worked out you own protocols.
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10 Tips for Taking Effective Phone Messages

In today’s computer-orientated business world, the telephone is still an important tool for connecting with your customers. There are few things more annoying than being handed a half crumpled piece of paper with semi-legible scrawl on it and being told that it’s a message from someone. You should not have to spend precious time trying to dicipher a message, or trying to track down the writer to clarify something.

Time is money. Here are some tips on how to take a proper, accurate telephone message.

  1. Write it down on a piece of paper, preferably a phone-message pad. Don’t scribble it at the back of an envelope or a bill. Don’t write one message at the edge of another one.
  2. Make sure there is lots of space on the message pad. If you try and jam too many messages on the same sheet, chances are you will not be able to decipher the message later.
  3. Make sure you have a working pen and a back up. If the pen stops working in the middle of the call, you shouldn’t be putting the caller on hold to go searching for a replacement.
  4. To avoid confusion, include important details, such as: the caller’s name, company and telephone number, with area code. A message with the name of the caller and the company name, will help you understand it better. Needless to say, a telephone number comes in handy when you need get back to the caller.
  5. The date and time of the call is essential. This will help you recall the conversation. The date and time will be important if need to support a process for certification or legal reasons.
  6. When writing the information, make sure to ask for correct spellings. This is particularly important in ensuring you have the correct name of the caller or company.
  7. Note whether the message is urgent. This way, the message recipient will know how quickly to respond.
  8. Before you hang up, read the message details back to the caller, to make certain that they are correct.
  9. Initial the bottom of the message. This way, if clarification is required, you can be contacted directly.
  10. Once you’ve taken the message, make sure to put it some place it is sure to be found by the recipient. Have a common location for the pick up of message or place it in a location where it will be seen.
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