Managing Your Own Paper
By Barbara Hemphill
Unstuff the Cabinets
Would it be valuable to you if colleagues could find information without
asking you, if you could reduce filing and retrieval time by 50 percent, if
you could delegate your filing to a temporary employee and still be confident
that you-or anyone else in the company-could still find it? Would it be
worth it if you became a respected member of the team and not someone
everyone dumps on?
If you want to dramatically increase your value to your employer, an
over-stuffed filing cabinet may be a good place to start. Managing your own
paper and helping others learn to manage theirs will be good for your
organization and will help ensure your personal success.
Research shows that 80 percent of what we keep we never use. Look in your
own file cabinets. Is it true? If so, the first step to an effective filing
system is to learn “the art of waste-basketry.”
Ask yourself these questions:
• Is it recent enough to be useful?
• Would it be difficult to get again?
• Does it exist in another form?
• Are there any tax or legal implications?
If the answer to all these questions is no, ask one final question:
“What is the worse possible thing that would happen if I didn’t have this information?”
If you can live with your answer, toss or recycle it. If in doubt, by all
means, keep it, but make sure you can find it when you need it.
Finding time to clean out files can be a major challenge, but good business
practice dictates that every organization should have an Annual File
Clean-Out Day. If you need to convince management to make it happen, take an inventory of existing files, note dates and contents, and demonstrate
examples of wasted space and time.
To make file Clean Out Day successful, talk with the legal and accounting department prior to the event to obtain guidelines for what you need to keep. Share that information with other members of your team. Be sure to make arrangements with the maintenance department to have plenty of dumpsters and recycling bins available.
Dumping Ground No More
After you’ve eliminated the unnecessary paper, it’s time to take steps to
turn the filing cabinets into a valuable resource instead of a dumping ground
for postponed decisions. If you inherit a filing system from someone else
that doesn’t make sense to you, your best bet may be to clean out the most
accessible file drawer and start over. As you pull something out of the old
system, you can incorporate it into the new one you’ve created. After you’ve
been in the job a year or so, you will be able to decide whether to put the
old files into archives or just toss them.
The major reason a filing system breaks down is that the same information can
be filed under automobile, car, or vehicle, for example. There’s an easy
solution to that problem: Start a file index, a list of the names of your
files. Before you make a new file, you can check your file index to see if
you already have a related file. Minimize the amount of time required to
maintain your filing system by noting retention guidelines on the file index.
According to the laws of entropy, systems left unchecked will deteriorate.
Did you ever see a filing system automatically get more organized? Creating
and maintaining a file index, coupled with an annual File Clean Out Day, will
minimize the deterioration of any filing system and maximize your chances of
finding what you need quickly.
There’s one more thing to consider when looking at the paper in your office.
Once I probed a client about his motivation to hire an organizing consultant.
He told this story. “I was very interested in hiring a bright young man to
come to work for my company. I interviewed the man, and offered him a
substantial package to join my team. Much to my chagrin, he declined.
Months later, I saw him at a meeting. I asked him why he hadn’t accepted my
offer, which I was certain was well above what he was currently making. He
replied, “When I looked at your office, it looked out of control. I didn’t
want to become part of the fray.”
An executive once said, “The best thing that ever happened to me was having
an assistant who wanted to work for a president, so she set out to help me
make it.” Does your office reflect the quality of service you provide to
your internal and external customers? If not, consider implementing a good
quality filing system. It will significantly improve the way your office
looks, and more importantly, will enable you to invest more time with your
customers, and be better prepared each time.
Organizations are primarily reactive about information; we wait for it to
come in, and then decide what to do about it. As an office professional, you
are a prime position to become the manager of that information. You can
approach each day with less stress knowing that you can find what you need
when you need it and so can everyone else.
Barbara Hemphill, President of Hemphill & Associates, Raleigh, N.C., is a professional speaker, consultant and author of Kiplinger’s "Taming the Paper Tiger." Copyright© 1999, Barbara Hemphill. All rights reserved. For information about Barbara’s keynote presentations, please contact The Frog Pond Group at 800-704-FROG (3764) or email firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.frogpondgroup.com.