07 Jun How I Challenged Myself To Go Paperless…And Won!

A few weeks ago, I started my Tuesday morning with our offsite leadership meeting. After a productive discussion, I headed to the office. During the ten minute commute, I was feeling energized just thinking about what post-meeting action items I wanted to implement.

As soon as I walked into my office, my energy quickly became drained and I was totally demotivated by my overflowing desk. It was chock full of paper. Moments later, I opened my briefcase, which also had a folder chock full of paperwork from the meeting. When I looked up, a team member kindly delivered our interoffice mail bin that was full of…you guessed it…more paper. The icing on the cake… when I stood up, I ran into the mailman who handed me a stack of mail. Given my Type A personality, I suddenly felt out of sorts and overwhelmed.

Is there a specific day or time during your week when you can relate to this paper overload situation?

No Time To Waste

In order to get organized, I had to get started. So I picked up the top sheet of paper from my desk, which was an idea that a team member wanted to discuss at our next manager meeting.  As usual, I bent over, opened up my file cabinet, and started to place the note in my “Manager Meeting” folder. While doing so, I noticed that this file drawer was full, but that didn’t stop me. The paper started to wrinkle and crumple a bit, but I just kept jamming it down. I pushed it in just enough so that I could barely see the label on the folder. Sound familiar? Ugh. Do you have any files, drawers, or closets at home or work that are totally maxed out, yet you continue to keep trying to add to them?

Thirty seconds later, I picked up a second sheet of paper, which was a spreadsheet of numbers that a team member gave me in preparation for our next one-on-one meeting. Again, I leaned toward my files that were about to explode. I proceeded to use a fair amount of force to create some space in the “One-on-One” folder.  It crossed my mind that maybe I needed a bigger filing system.

My Aha Moment

In a moment of clarity, I stopped the nonsense and came up with a better idea. Instead of creating more filing space, I paused and asked myself, “If I got rid of my filing cabinet, would I be able to go paperless?” Without allowing any time to talk myself out of this idea, I quickly took action by pulling out both of the overstuffed drawers and placing them on the ground.  I then immediately texted my two maintenance gurus, Del and Mark, and asked them to swing by to help me reconfigure my office.

No Looking Back

Before I went paperless, my desk had two wings that formed an “L” shape. One wing had my computer on the top with the filing cabinet below. The other wing had two chairs across the desk from my chair… mostly for customers, vendors, and team members… but no filing cabinet below. I decided to eliminate the wing with the filing cabinet and keep the one without it.

A few minutes after I sent the text, Del and Mark disassembled the wing that was on the chopping block. They moved it out of sight and out of mind in order to accomplish my goal. Then, they moved the wing that I wanted to keep in place of the old one. Finally, we added a round table for my office guests. My environment was now set up perfectly with no more paper clutter, right? Well, not so much.

Two Drawers In Two Days

I still had the two drawers pumped full of paper on the ground. On Tuesday night, I set a goal to eliminate all of the paper in the drawers over the next two days: drawer one on Wednesday and drawer two on Thursday. Get back to normal on Friday. This simple goal, however, wasn’t enough. I couldn’t just throw away all of the stuff that had originally been filed for good reason. I needed a strategy, so I mindfully created one that would work for me. What strategy would work best for your situation?

The Five Piles Strategy

On Wednesday morning, I grabbed five 3×5 cards and wrote down one of the following words on each card: Scan, Type, Merge, Schedule, and Eliminate. I spread out the five cards on my office floor with the intention of emptying both drawers into five transition piles. Here are the details of each pile.

Pile #1: SCAN. I scanned everything in this pile and saved it onto my Google Drive cloud storage system. For example, the one-on-one numbers spreadsheet from my colleague was placed into this pile. These documents are now searchable and shareable on all of my devices.

Pile #2: TYPE. I typed everything in this pile onto my Google Keep digital note keeper. For example, the idea that my team member wanted to discuss at the next manager meeting was captured in this way. These notes are now visible and editable on all devices.

Pile #3: MERGE. I merged the things in this pile with other paper files throughout the other file cabinets in the facility. It didn’t take me long to find an interesting surprise… about 50 percent of the paper that I had in my office was already in a file somewhere else. For example, thank you notes, employment applications, mission cards, and many other items were in multiple locations. So, I did two things with these items. First, I combined the paper documents that had multiple locations to one spot. Second, I made sure that all team members had access to the documents on a shared network so that they could print and access everything themselves.

Pile #4. SCHEDULE. I had a large pile of to-do notes. I scheduled every little written note on my digital Google Calendar to ensure completion. What gets scheduled gets done, right? My calendar is definitely full, but I am no longer rewriting my to-do list. Instead, I’m tackling my to-do’s.

Pile #5. ELIMINATE. I shredded and recycled all of the paper that didn’t fit into one of the other four piles. For example, I found some paperwork that I haven’t touched for well over two years. Keep in mind, if it was important information, I had already made the decision to scan and save it to my Google Drive.

Exceeding Expectations

As soon as I started sorting through drawer one, I noticed that this process was going much faster than I had anticipated. I was able to sort through both drawers on Wednesday, which meant that I was able to invest my time on Thursday and Friday into scanning, typing, merging, scheduling, and eliminating.

What does this mean for you? If you’ve been thinking about taking steps to go paperless, it might not take as much time as you think. Take the leap. The example that you set might be exactly what US organizations need to cut the clutter and reduce the $460 billion in annual salaries that we spend to manage the paper-driven information overload.

ACTION:  What tweak could you make to minimize paper in your environment? Start small, begin now, and enjoy the benefits of being more efficient and effective.

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