6 Powerful Practices for Coping with Information Overload
Today’s high-tech world is deluged with more information than ever imaginable. In spite of all the promises of the paperless office, statistics show that exactly the opposite is happening. Those who have tried the paperless solution find it has its own challenges. How many lunches have you missed because you were searching through files – never finding what you needed?
Asking four basic questions will help you make decisions about how to manage the information in your office – whether it’s for paper or electronic files.
1. What information do you really need to keep?
2. In what form do you need to keep it?
3. For how long?
4. How can you find it when we need it? (That’s the really big one!)
To improve your chances of retrieving information, consider these six possibilities:
1. Create a File Index (a roadmap for available information!) for your company. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my father was “Half of any job is having the right tool.” The network version of The Paper Tiger software allows colleagues to share information in a way never before possible and to avoid wasting time recreating information that already exists because no one knew it existed. While many people are looking at scanning as a way of coping with information overload, make sure that you are really solving a problem, and not just creating another. Using a computer software program can make handling paper so easy that the investment of time and equipment to go “paperless” may not be necessary, or when you do convert to electronic storage you will avoid just creating a faster mess!
2. Develop Retention Guidelines. Clutter is Postponed Decisions®. Paper will continue to pile up because someone needs to make a decision about retention. Clients often ask me how long they should keep documents. Determine the answer by looking at your own past experience. Often, that means asking the people with whom you work who really use the papers! If you’re not sure, consult the guidelines in Kiplinger’s Taming the Paper Tiger at Work. That’s one of the major reasons I wrote the book! (If you need retention information for files at home, consult Kiplinger’s Taming the Paper Tiger at Home.)
3. Hold a File Clean-Out Day. Make the day fun! Wear comfortable clothes, order lunch, and give prizes – such as the “Most Progress” or “The Funniest Discovery”. Provide staff with storage boxes for files that can be kept in less accessible spaces. Create a “white elephant room” for employees to put items they aren’t using, but other people might want. Consider hiring an organizing consultant to give a short presentation on The Art of Wastebasketry® at the beginning of the day and to facilitate the process during the day. (See Tip #5.)
4. Use, and train others around you, to automatically use The FAT System(TM). There are only three decisions you can make about any piece of paper: File, Act, or Toss. Make decisions on paper as it comes in. Put papers that require action into “Action Files.” Papers you may never need, but are afraid to throw away go into Reference Files. As Reference Files become old, they become Archive Files or can be tossed.
5. Continually practice “The Art of Wastebasketry®. Research shows that 80% of what we keep, we never use. Don’t make today’s mail turn into tomorrow’s pile! Ask yourself: 1. Does this require action? 2. Can I identify a specific use? 3. Is it difficult to get again? 4. Is it recent enough to be useful? 5. Are there legal considerations?
If the answer to all these questions is “No,” ask one final question: “What is the worst possible thing that would happen if I didn’t have this piece of paper?” If you can live with your answer, toss – or recycle it! Since security is a big issue today, I’ve discovered that a shredder is one of the best tools to encourage people to throw things!
6. Take Advantage of Report Features of The Paper Tiger. If you’re afraid to toss something, don’t worry about it – just keep it! Your File Index will help you find it in case you do need it or help you clean it out when your files get full. Recently, my assistant informed me there was no more space for new projects. Instead of just adding more file cabinets, I took the File Clean-Out Report automatically created by The Paper Tiger software on my next trip and made notes on what could be cleaned, tossed, or archived. When I returned to my office, I gave the report to a high school student, working in our office for the summer. She did the cleaning out and transferring of files for us!
Your office is a reflection of you and your organization. An organized, uncluttered workspace will make you more productive and less stressed. You can stop losing time searching for files. In fact, you may even find time for lunch!