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.

Too Much Paper Robs You of Time

Imagine staring out the window from the fifth floor of a building and seeing a stack of reports from the ground up to your eye level. This 55-foot high stack would weigh some 659 pounds. According to Pulp & Paper, that’s the height and weight of paper that Americans annually consume per person. Having to deal with too much paper, in any form, is going to put a definite crimp in your sense of free time.

The chances are astronomical that controlling the paper flow in your life is a burning issue with you right now. The sea of paper you currently face at work or at home is endemic to this society — it’s not just you!

American paper consumption per person is twice as much as the British or the Japanese, nine times more than the Russians, and 23 times more than the Chinese.
  • The documentation for a Boeing 747 weighs more than the plane itself.
  • More than 25,000,000 pages were printed to document the trials, heats, and finals of the 1988 Summer Olympic competitions in Calgary.
  • This year, Congress received more than 300,000,000 pieces of mail, up from 15,000,000 in 1970.
  • Today, 55,000,000 printers are plugged into at least that number of computers, and annually spew out billions of reams of paper. Paperless office, where are you?
  • Are 18,000 sheets enough? Your four-drawer file cabinet, when full, holds 18,000 pages.

The Direct Mail Glut

The Thoreau Society reports that last year, Henry David Thoreau (who personally has been unable to make any purchases since 1862) received 90 direct mail solicitations at Walden Pond. Under the existing postal rates in this society, catalog publishers and junk mail producers can miss the target 98% of the attempts and still make a profit. Only 2% of recipients need to place an order for a direct mailer to score big. Direct mailers, attempting to sell more, send you increasingly titanic amounts of unsolicited mail, more than double what you received in 1978. Meanwhile, regular mail delivery and express mail delivery per capita rises every year.
  • In 1988, 12 billion catalogs were mailed in the U.S., up from five billion in 1980 — equal to 50 catalogs for every man, woman, and child in America.
  • In the last decade, the growth in the total volume of regular, third-class bulk mail (junk mail) was 13 times faster than the growth in the population.
  • The typical executive receives more than 225 pieces of unsolicited mail each month.
  • Greenpeace, a stalwart protector of the environment, sends out 25,000,000 pieces of direct mail annually.
  • The average person spends a total of eight solid months of his/her life reading junk mail. I want those eight months. How about you?

Covering One’s Own

It’s not simply that we can and do generate the paper, but that we feel important doing it. The funny thing is, we condone each other’s over-use of paper. Our unspoken mottoes have become, “I photocopy, therefore I am,” “I fax, therefore I am,” and, “Have laser printer, will make dozens of copies.” No birth control for reprints — just endless reproduction — a world imaging itself, memoranda infinitum.

Why is documentation, like circulating a copy to your boss, so critical to this culture? Because everyone is afraid of getting his derriere roasted! We live in a culture of fear, not like some martial law dictatorships we all know about, but a form of fear nonetheless.

“If I cannot document or account, I cannot prove, or defend myself.” Attempting to contain what seems unmanageable, organizations and institutions both public and private, create paper accounting systems. These systems provide temporary relief and some sense of order. Usually they become ingrained and immovable, while creating more muddle. These accounting systems go by names such as federal income taxes, car loan, deed of trust, etc. Sure, accounting is necessary, but why so complicated? It is because over-information is regarded as a form of protection.

Corporate cultures subject their employees and constituents to substantial paperwork. Firing an incompetent worker requires reams of documentation. Similarly, job promotions, client billing, investment analysis, and fund raising require voluminous paperwork. Corporate paper flow itself accounts for 70% of all corporate activity today.

Your Own Private Paper Glut

Your own paper glut is something that you continually confront. You can shield yourself for stretches from the other mega-realities, but those piles on your desk and around your office are overwhelming you too.

Studies of paper retention show that about 80% of papers retained in office environments are never used. Stated alternatively, you’re probably holding on to four times what you need, and to find and use what you need becomes more difficult and requires additional effort.

It’s time to clear the IN-bins of your mind and your desk. Regard each piece of paper that enters your personal kingdom as a potential mutineer, rebel, or disloyal subject. Every piece of paper has to earn its keep and remain worthy of your retention. Were it to speak, it would have to immediately convey its value to you. If it could not, it has to volunteer for recycling, where it has the chance of coming back to you someday.

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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.