The Art of Wastebasketry
By Barbara Hemphill
filing cabinets stuffed so full that it’s difficult to retrieve and
file papers? If you’re
like 80% of the people in the audiences to whom I speak, your answer
is “Yes.” “Are there
things in your filing cabinet you could probably throw out?” Most
once again answer “Yes.” So
what’s the problem?
major stumbling block is time. Some
may say cleaning out the filing cabinet won’t make you money.
My response is “Really?”
Research shows the average person spends 150 hours each year
looking for misplaced information.
What would happen to your bottom line if you added that time to
getting new customers or selling new products or services to old
people say to me “It never fails.
Every time I throw out something, I need it the next day.”
To which I reply, “Can you give me an example?”
Mostly I get silence. Determine whether you want to keep each
piece of paper at all by asking yourself these “Art of Wastebasketry”
Does this require any
you receive information—even if it’s from your boss—doesn’t
mean you need to keep it! If it doesn’t require action, file it or
toss it right away! If it’s just an FYI, read it and toss.
Does this exist
Is it in the
library? Do you know an expert on the subject who’d be certain to
have more complete information if you really needed it? Is the
original filed elsewhere? Is it necessary to keep a hard copy if it
already exists in the computer?
Is this information recent
enough to be useful?
information becomes outdated very quickly. Would you want a customer
to decide whether or not to choose your services based on a
three-year-old brochure? The information in a 6-month-old magazine
article about computer software has undoubtedly been superseded, as
has a downloaded product review from an on-line service. In many
cases, it is more appropriate to keep track of the source of the
information, so you can get the latest version, rather than keeping
the information itself.
Can I identify specific
circumstances when I’d use this information?
“just in case” is not good enough! Files labeled
“Miscellaneous” are of little value, because there’s nothing to
trigger you to look there. If you can’t identify how you’d use the
information – at least well enough that you can file it for future
reference, it’s unlikely that you’d remember you have it, let
alone be able to find it later.
there any tax or legal
where “just in case” works. Unfortunately, we’re frequently
required to resurrect paper that we’d much rather have forgotten.
Sometimes, having outdated information in your files can create
unnecessary problems. A client of mine was sued. When the company’s
files were subpoenaed, the prosecuting attorney found my client’s
unsigned contract proposal, and used it to prove wrongful intent.
My client lost the suit and had to pay $147,000. Had the files
had been properly cleaned, I don’t believe that would have happened.
If you answer
“No” to all the above questions, but are still not comfortable
throwing something away, ask one last question:
What is the worst possible thing
that could happen if I didn’t have this information?
If you can
live with your answer, toss it – and live happily ever after. For
years I have orchestrated “File Clean-Out Days” with companies.
I used to live in fear that someone would come back to me
afterward with a horror story of something we threw out, and they
needed later. In 20 years,
it’s never happened!
woman told me that one of the big frustrations in her advertising
company was staff spending time looking for materials from client
projects years prior. I
suggested a plan. Why not
establish a company policy that “We keep client materials for three
years.” At the end of
each year, you send a letter to the client saying “We have the
following materials from the project we did together.
Our policy is to keep client materials for three years.
If we don’t hear from you in 60 days, the materials will be
destroyed.” What’s the
worst possible thing that could happen?
Four possibilities than I can think of.
(1) You won’t waste valuable time looking for something which
brings back nothing to the company, (2) Your policy makes you look
very professional, or (3) Your letter reminds the client of your
availability, and you get a new contract!
Who says using your wastebasket doesn’t make money?
And (4), somebody somewhere probably has it anyway – in spite
of our best efforts!
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