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Taming the Paper Tiger.

Toss it, act on it or file it!

Do you come home from meetings with your briefcase stuffed with paper - travel receipts, phone messages, meeting notes, business cards, promotional information and other readinq material?

You have the highest intention to utilize this valuable information, but you arrive home greeted by another pile of paper that accumulated while you were gone -- and it looks infinitely more threatening than the good intentions in your briefcase. So you pile the papers from your briefcase on the credenza behind your desk. After several weeks, you get tired of looking at it, and stuff it in a file called "miscellaneous."

The reason that paper piles up in your office -- and in your briefcase on the road -- is that you haven't decided what to do with it. Clutter is postponed decisions'!(tm) Use the following tips to make decisions about the information you gather when you travel:

1 There are only three decisions you can make about any piece of paper: (1) File it, (2) Act on it, or (3) Toss it!

2 Practice The Art of Wastebasketry(tm)." Research shows that 80% of what goes in most files is never used. Ask yourself, "What's the worst possible thing that would happen if I didn't have his piece of paper?" If you can live with the results, toss it!

3 For each piece of paper you decide to keep, ask yourself: a) "What is the next action I need to take on this piece of paper?" b) "Is this action time-bound in anyway?" If so, make a note on your calendar.

4 Organize papers in your briefcase with file folders labeled with specific action such as "call," "file," "write," or "read."

5 For each piece of paper you want to file for future reference, ask yourself the question, "If I want or need this information again, what word will I think of first?" Write that "key word" in the upper right hand folder, and put the paper in your "File" folder.

6 Keep tax-deductible receipts together in an envelope. Record the purpose of the expense when you get it, rather than trying to reconstruct it later.

7 Write the date and circumstance on each business card you collect. When you return to the office, enter the information for the people with whom you want to remain in contact into your contact management program.

8 Carry stationery to write thank-you notes or other quick response.

9 Keep a "to do" list of specific ideas you plant to implement when your travel is over. When you return, prioritize the list, and enter reminders of specific actions you want to take in your calendar.

10 When you are tempted to postpone a decision about a specific piece of paper, ask yourself: "What am I going to know tomorrow that I don't know today?"

If you follow these steps when you travel, you will arrive home ready to face the paper that accumulated while you were gone. But even more important, those papers you collected on your trip will be a real resource, and not another pile of postponed decisions.

Barbara Hemphill (, CEO of Hemphill Productivity Institute, Raleigh, NC, and author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Society of Management Accountants of Canada
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Author:Hemphil, Barbara
Publication:CMA Management
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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