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According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Team, more than 99 million tons of paper and paperboard were used in the U.S. in 2005, and paper and paperboard make up 34% of the U.S. waste stream. Despite the fact that many Americans are addicted to texting and email, we still consume huge amounts of paper.
With paper clutter, efficiency and discipline are the keys to maintaining a clean work surface. Whether its reports and invoices on your desk at the office or receipts and junk mail on the kitchen counter at home, there are several ways you can reduce paper usage and streamline processes to avoid the need for paper entirely.
- Designate a time every day to manage paper – first thing in the morning when preparing your daily to-do list, or at the end of the day when sorting papers into action files. A great time and place to eliminate paper is when you pick up the mail. For example, many condo or apartment buildings have recycle bins located right next to the mail boxes so you don’t even have to carry that flyer into your home.
- Think before you print – is it necessary to print an email or the attached file? What will you do with the paper once you print it out? Will the paper have a purpose or a ‘home’ in your space or on your desk? Be careful to keep paper from becoming just another pile.
- Create electronic file folders – organize and store documents on the computer in a way that you can quickly find what you need and resist the urge to rely only on documents in paper form. The easiest way to do this is to create an electronic file structure that is parallel to your paper file structure. No need to rethink the whole plan – just start from the structure you have and know will work. This will keep your filing hierarchy consistent for emails and documents. It also helps save paper and toner which is a costly office supply.
- Purge unnecessary papers – learn how long you need to keep important documents and you might be surprised. Tax returns should be kept for seven years, birth certificates should be kept forever, but credit card and bank statements can be shredded after two years (opt for online statements to eliminate this source of paper).
- Scan your important papers – increase access and security of your documents. There are many advantages to electronic files. They can be searched by keyword, content can be copied and edited quickly, and sharing and collaborating among staff or family is easier. The chances of accidental loss of physical papers due to fire or flood is decreased when you have files saved electronically. Scanning and saving documents, along with off-site data back-ups, safeguards against theft when adding password protection and encryption.
This content was submitted by Elizabeth Bowman of Innovatively Organized. Elizabeth is a Professional Organizer and Productivity Consultant based in Seattle, WA where she helps her busy clients streamline their work spaces and schedules through paper, time, and email management techniques. You can contact her at Elizabeth@InnovativelyOrganized.com or 206.494.9822 for more information.