You’ve probably heard it said more than once that supervisors should manage the function, not the paperwork. Their most important role is to ensure a particular task or tasks get done properly.
Yet few of us who are in charge of managing people and projects can do so in an environment completely without forms, reports, memos, letters, data sheets … the list goes on. Face it, whether at home or at work, you’re never going to be free of the paperwork in your life, so you might as well learn to live with it.
Ignoring paperwork certainly won’t make it go away; in fact, if you procrastinate long enough, your job could be at risk. So let’s presume you really do want to get on top of your paperwork, and stay there.
Before filing anything, consider your “first response” to every piece of paper (or e-mail). If it pertains to something you are going to do, do it now. Don’t set the paper down to think about it, or to look at the next one. Take action. Answer it. Send it to someone who can take action. Make the phone call or reply to the e-mail, giving the writer the requested information.
In many cases, you’ll never have to look at that piece again.
Now, how about the stuff you decide to keep? Start with the realization that most of us have papers that are current, archival and sentimental.
This is the most misunderstood part of filing. Archival and sentimental paperwork should be kept separate from current paperwork. Current material is paper you refer to at least several times a year. If you haven’t looked at an item in the past year but have decided you need to keep it, it’s archival.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t be holding on to a lot of archival material. Very valuable or irreplaceable documents should be stored in a safe deposit box or a fireproof safe.
To clean out your current files, look at every document and ask yourself three questions:
1. Do I need this? What’s the worst thing that could happen if it got thrown away?
2. Is it on file somewhere else? If nothing bad would happen if it got tossed, shredded or if you could get another copy, then by all means get rid of it. Do not save things that you “might need someday.” Be ruthless.
3. Does it belong in my files? If you haven’t referred to it in a year and you don’t need it but you want it, it’s sentimental.
Your file system is not a museum, it is a functional storage system for the stuff you use regularly.
How you organize your filing system depends on the kind of space you occupy, the equipment and furnishings you have, and so forth. In general, though, the best approach is to categorize the material not only by subject, but by its order of priority for being dealt with.
For immediate action, pick one of the Three Ds:
• Do it.
• Delegate it.
• Dump it.
For material that is to be retained for later action or reference, try and keep your system simple and clearly marked – by letter or coloured label, for example.
To keep your paperwork manageable, set a day and time each week for filing. Don’t let it stack up. Store non-essential documents in boxes, with contents marked. Where possible, determine a date when the material can be destroyed. Twice a year, visit the storage area and remove boxes that are beyond the destruction date.