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Taming the paper tiger on the road.

Do you come home from meetings with your briefcase stuffed with paper--travel receipts, phone messages, meeting notes, business cards, promotional information and other reading 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 on the credenza behind your desk. After several weeks, you get tired of looking at it and stuff it in a file called "Association Meeting -- Chicago -- 1990" preceded by "Association Meeting -- Denver -- 1988!"

The reason the papers pile up in your office is that you haven't decided what to do with them. Clutter is postponed decisions! Use the following tips to make decisions about the information you gather when you travel:

1. Remember, there are only three things you can do with any piece of paper: toss it, act on it, or file it.

2. Practice the "Art of Wastebasketry." 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 this 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? and b) Is this action time-bound in any way? If so, make a note on your calendar.

4. Organize papers in your briefcase with file folders labeled with specific actions, such as "call," "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 would I think of?" Write that key word in the upper right hand corner and put the paper in your "file" folder.

6. Keep tax-deductible receipts together in an envelope. It will be easier to record the purpose of the expense when you file it rather than trying to reconstruct it later.

7. Write the date and circumstances on each business card you collect. When you get home, put the business cards you decide to keep in two categories: a) rolodex, for those people you are reasonably sure you will want to contact or b) small box, for those you are not comfortable tossing but don't merit rolodex space. When using the rolodex, ask yourself "If I want to contact this person again, what word would I think of first?" (last name, organization, service, city, who introduced me, etc.). Some people use a computer program to track all contacts. In that case, carry an envelope or file marked "computer entry."

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

9. Keep a "To do" list of specific ideas you plan to implement when your travel is over. Prioritize the list once the trip is over and enter reminders of actions you want to take on 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 already know today?"

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

Barbara Hemphill, President of Hemphill & Associates in Washington, D.C., is a professional speaker, consultant and author of Taming the Paper Tiger.

Editor's note: Practice Pointers...Ideas You Can Use is just that -- helpful ideas and suggestions from fellow practitioners that you can incorporate into your practice to save time and money.

Have you an idea that you use and feel others would also benefit from? Send it to the NPA and we'll run in this column with your byline.

Any and all management techniques are welcome --

forms, schedules, shortcuts, checklists, outlines, and practice aids are about a few possibilities.

We are also seeking any suggestions and tips relating to running a business such as --

energy-saving tips, hiring/firing employees, applying for loans, office procedures, office equipment, client relations, etc.

So send in your idea today to the National and Public Accountant, 1010 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314-1574.
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Title Annotation:Practice Pointers; paperwork
Author:Hemphill, Barbara
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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