Clear Your Desk to Clear Your Mind

By Heather Baldwin

Does this sound familiar? You got into sales to work with people and make a difference in a high-energy job, but more and more you feel like a paper pusher with a fancy title. If you’re like most managers, you now spend 50% to 70% of your working time dealing with paper, according to Leslie Bolton, author of Time Management: Get organized and accomplish more in less time (Adams Media, 2002). Want to get control of your time? Start, says Bolton, by taming the paper tiger.

Buy a notebook. Stop recording stray insights, ideas and to-dos on scraps of paper. Write them down in a notebook and get rid of all the Post-It notes on your desk.

Touch it once. The first time you handle a piece of paper, whether a one-page letter or a 500-page report, decide what to do with it – reroute, respond, read or recycle. To facilitate its movement, keep within reach a supply of routing slips, interoffice mail envelopes, a recycling box and anything else you need to send paper on its way.

Shorten the stack. The only thing better than getting rid of paper is never having to deal with it in the first place. Ask to be removed from interoffice routing lists of periodicals you don’t need. If it’s your subscription, don’t automatically renew without evaluating the publication’s worth. For a wholesale purge of third-class mail, send a letter asking to be removed from mailing lists to Direct Marketing Association, Mail Reference Service, Box 3861, New York, NY, 10163-3861.

Decide to file or flush. If you decide a document or article is worth filing for future reference, ask yourself whether you really think you’re likely to go back and look at it. “Most people never refer back to, or even read, three quarters of the stuff they file,” says Bolton. So if you’re putting it in a file because you think someday you might need it, you won’t. Toss it.

Schedule paper management. Schedule time each day to handle the paper in your inbox and set aside time each week to review all the papers in the to-be-read or to-be-filed folder. Don’t let them pile up. Do it at the same time each day/week and you’re more likely to keep the appointment – and thus tame the paper tiger.