Jeff Davidson's book, Simpler Living, was Amazon Kindle #1 in its category, first quarter, 2012. Jeff is featured in the NY Times, Forbes, Chicago Tribune, Businessweek, Fortune, Organized Executive, and Success.

Basic Steps to Diminish the Paper Pile

Even with the dramatic rise and popularity of the Internet and email, when assessing the information deluge we each face, paper is still a culprit. In the U.S. we have the lowest postal rates in the world, which contributes to a huge direct mail industry. The U.S. consumes more paper per person than any other country on earth.

By some estimates, the typical U.S. office worker consumes 60 sheets a day or 12,000 a year. We also have the highest amount of paper-generating equipment per capita, and more fax machines, laser printers, personal computers, and personal copiers. We nearly paper each other into oblivion.

The volume of paper that we face is, in and of itself, an impediment to productivity as well as to staying organized.

Rule Paper, Don’t Let It Rule You

Handling paper is still vital when it comes to becoming and remaining organized. Your organizing mission is to persevere in the quest to stay in control of the paper that comes your way.

Be cautious in deciding what you do and do not want to file away. Don’t pitch everything coming in, but recognize that problems begin when you allow even one unnecessary piece of paper to enter your office. Every unneeded page helps derail your ability to stay organized.

Everyday, fight to keep your desk clear. Every evening, after you’ve cleared your desk, acknowledge yourself for what you accomplished that day. If you keep the spaces of your life clear, especially flat spaces like the tops of your desk and filing cabinet and the corners and windowsills around the room, control of your time and control of your life tends to follow.

Dr. Terry Paulson, author of They Shoot Managers Don’t They, suggests that if you touch a piece of paper at least advance its progress. “If you read it, at least identify what file it belongs in and write it on the top right hand of the document so you can file it without re-reading it,” advises Paulson.

Never Volunteer to be Inundated

Sometimes the piles of paper and documents all around us that thwart our ability to remain organized arrive by our own invitation! I was phoned one afternoon by a marketing representative from a well-established investment company. With such calls, after a couple lines of their spiel I find a polite way to quickly end the conversation. This particular caller seemed to be different, so I listened a bit longer.

He discussed his company’s various investment options. He offered to send a brochure that listed the 35 different investment vehicles available, plus his company’s annual report, and a prospectus.

“Wait a moment,” I said. “I have no interest in reading about 35 different investment options. Please, do us both a favor by confining your information to a single page. You know, a paragraph or so on the three best options you think would be right for me.” I told him I wasn’t going to read his firm’s annual report, so there was no reason to send it. If I liked what he sent me on the single page, I could always request the annual report at another time.

I explained further that while I have an MBA, with a certified management consultant designation, “I’m not fond of reading prospectuses, so please don’t send that either.”

As our conversation drew to a close I repeated to him that I only wanted to see a single page with the three investments he thought were best for me. If he wanted to send one other slim brochure that contained data on his company’s latest financial standing, that would be okay. Seemingly he agreed to send only those two items.

Several days passed, and I forgot about the call. In Monday’s mail, I noticed a thick package from his investment firm. Uh-oh. I opened it and saw everything I had asked him not to send. I took the assemblage and with one flick of my wrists, sought to tear it in half, but it was too thick. I quickly tossed it, and you may rest assured that I did not become a client.

Never volunteer to be inundated. If that agent had sent me what I asked for, who knows, I might have made his day.

Take In and Retain Less, Starting Now

People make excuses at work all the time about why they are overloaded with paper. Someone else is forcing them to receive more periodicals and subscriptions than they can handle or is forcing them to put their names on more mailing lists. No one is doing this to you — you are doing it to yourself.

Curiously, the more information we attempt to consume, the more we seek to acquire. We are like information switchboards, marveling at how much we can keep our fingers on. To ensure there’s never a dull moment, we open up yet another piece of junk mail.

Wired Magazine once ran a feature which stated that “clutter is among the lowest forms of spacial organization. A pile simply allowed to stack up contains items, which, if not retrieved, will lose their previous usefulness. Massive clutter lacks geometry. Stuff that is haphazardly strewn across one space has little–if any–value where it currently lies. What’s more, it diminishes the value of the space it occupies, ultimately offering the perpetrator less value, less freedom, less control, and greater poverty.”

Accumulations by their nature, steal your time. First you receive them, then place them somewhere, look at them, move them, arrange them, perhaps file some items and discard others, move things yet again, and then put up your hands and fall into despair. How would your career proceed if you merged and purged on a regular basis, as these items came across your desk? You’d likely have more time and ultimately get more done.

Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 65 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, making 886 presentations to clients such as Lockheed Martin, Eckerd, Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space Institute and the author of books such as:
  • Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
  • Dial It Down--Live it Up (Sourcebooks)
  • The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
  • Breathing Space (CreateSpace)
  • Accomplishing Your Goals (Smart Guide Publications)
Jeff is the premier thought leader on work-life balance issues and has been widely quoted in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, USA Today, Businessweek, Forbes, and Fortune. Cited by Sharing Ideas Magazine as a "Consummate Speaker," Jeff believes that career professionals today in all industries have a responsibility to achieve their own sense of work-life balance, and he supports that quest through his website

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