Eliminate Office Clutter With a Paper Retention Policy

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Every major corporate and government office has a rigid system in place for how long important paperwork needs to be kept on file. While you might have significantly less folders with drastically less sensitive information than, say, the CIA, it might still be advantageous to implement a record retention policy in your own home office to cut down on your office clutter...

Ian at Ian's Messy Desk has come up with several tips to start you on your way to a clean and healthy office environment. He suggests that every paper, upon entering the office, needs to forge a trail one of four ways: Do it, delay it, delegate it or dump it.

The "do," "delegate," and "dump" never seem to be a problem with clutter. But the "delay it" is where things can get... messy. There are some papers that will need to find a temporary home in your office, but remember that it isn't effective or practical to keep paperwork beyond the point where it is required by law or directly benefits you, so do something about those eight-year-old utility bills from your previous apartment.

A few of the best ideas:


  • Put non–urgent “to read” items in their own file folder; use multiple folders if you have different to-read categories. As you receive new items, place them in the front of the folder. If the folder gets too full, toss the old stuff without looking at it. That way you always have current stuff that might go back a month or two. Don’t worry you’ll throw away something vital, if it’s vital, it shouldn’t be in a general reading file.

  • Think before you print. The cost of storage media keeps getting less and less. You can print any web page to pdf and store it on the drive. Combine that with a search tool such as Google Desktop and you can quickly find material previously saved.

  • Despite technological advances, there are certain files, such as personnel records and corporate documents, that you’ll need to keep for extended periods of time. To manage this process, you’ll need a record retention plan. Assign a rule and duration for each type of document in your "delay" pile (tax paperwork, payroll, banking statements, etc.), then consolidate and organize your archive files with destroy-by dates. If you're not sure on paper timing, check Kiplinger's guide to how long to keep tax documents.

[ Image from stopnlook@Flickr ]

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Taryn is a writer, maker, and designer based in Atlanta, and editor of lifestyle blog Formal Fringe. She loves her fiance, her dog Bacon, and collecting beer koozies when she travels.

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