Managing paperwork

Managers attract paper like bees to honey - except honey is sweet and papers are stifling. Even in this age of high-tech, most of us have stacks of paper on, about, under or adjacent to our desks. If you're like me, you'll draw the line at some point, then spend considerable time cleaning up the mess. Then, unfortunately, you wonder where you put everything - or if you threw it out in a fit of "effciency."

Like most things in life, managing information - which is what this is all about - takes a system. Professional organizer Barbara Hemphill has a system, which she outlines in her book, "Taming the Paper Tiger at Work."

"Your ability to do anything is directly related to your ability to find the right thing at the right time," she says.

"Clutter is postponed decisions. The decsions are 'Do I keep this?' 'Where do I tkeep this?' 'How do I find it?' 'What form do I keep it in?' "In response to indecision, Hemphill created the FAT system for your paper or electronic information. In her system, there are only three decisions you can make1. File. This is for documents that you're not sure if you'll ever need, but you don't have the guts to throw them away. In other words, reference files.

2. Act . This is an action file; something you must do. To make this work, you need to tie this into your calendaring system or to-do list.

3. Toss. "Eighty percent of what we keep we never use," Hemphill says. "The more we keep the less we use because it becomes less accessible."

Hemphill says people tend to hold on to paper or other objects for one of two reasons: emotion or time. "I have worked one-on-one with hundreds of people, and when I work with something who is a severe pack rat if I ask enough questions I will find out invevitably that that person experienced a severe loss in their life," she says. The less traumatic answer is that people just don't have the time to invent and maintain an organizational system, especially with todays' reduced staffs and more work.

Regardless of which method you choose - Hemphill's or another - if you've got a paper problem, you should find a resolution as it won't fix itself. As Hemphill says: "Today's mail is tomorrow's pile."

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