What’s your paper chaos costing you ?

This post is my second task in the Edublogs “KickStart Your Blogging” Teacher Challenge

One of my (many) goals for 2011 is to keep a clean desk both at home and work this year. Whilst I’m pretty good at managing the digital sutff, it’s the offline hard copy stuff that I tend to be drowning in. Anyone who has seen my desk or pigeon hole at work will attest to this statement.

I started reading “PaperFlow” by MaryAnne Bennie and Brigitte Hinneberg. I was instantly taken with the beautiful photo at beginning the book showcase the increadiably clean desk and the the matching red, white and dark brown stationary and storage options. This image symbolised what I so wanted to achieve for myself.

Some truths about paper:

The book begins by talking about how paper flows through our lives and recognsing some truths about paper:

  1. Paper needs to earn the right to take up your space.
    Paper will only fit in the space made available for it
  2. Look after the 20%.
    80% of the paper we keep is never going to be looked at again !
  3. It’s always urgent when you can’t find it.
    You never know when you’re going to need that important document, but when you do, it’s almost always in a hurry
  4. Paper likes to be with its friends.
    Similar types of information and similar shapes and sizes wanted to be together.
  5. Your paper will tell you how it wants to be stored.
  6. Storage is a tool, not a solution
    Storage containers, files and stationary are merely toosl, and a tool without a system is just clutter.
  7. Paper will evolve.
    A good system will adapt, expand and contract. A good paperwork system preserves your past, documents your present and anticipates your future.
  8. Paper needs to flow.
    When paper doesn’t flow, we experience “office constipation”

In reflecting on the above, I was able to identify my strengths and areas of opportunity. Most of the paper I had kept was stored reasonably well; similar documents were stored together and living with their friends.

One of the tasks early on the book asks you to calculcate the cost of your paper chaos. At a rough estimate, I worked out that over a week I spend about 2 hours looking for lost documents, 45 minutes duplicating work I had already done and about 3 hours sorting and resorting documents and paperwork. The task then requires you to multiply this number by 52. I attempted to find a calculator for this task, knowing there was one on my desk, but I couldn’t find it amongst all the paper ! (I ended up using my iPhone and later found out someone in the house had borrowed my calculator!). This worked out to be 312 hours a year !!! (Now I know why I didn’t have any time to write blog posts in the past! :P)

Areas for opportunity were to develop a solution to manage the flow. So many personal and work related documents were dumped in various places. On my desk, in my bag, in my pigeon hole, on the kitchen bench, somewhere in the car….) My paper wasn’t flowing and I was getting seriously blocked up ! 😛

Decide Now!

Throughout the remainder of the book, a series of “decide now” prompts encourage you to stop and reflect or make a decision before moving on through the rest of the book. I really liked this approach as it encouraged me to stop and think about how I wanted to move forward. The book also encourages you to keep notes of your decisions as you move through the book; another task I found benificial. By the time I reached the end of each chapter I had a clear, concise list of what I had, what I needed and what was required instead of having to flick back and re-read earlier sections.

Where to now ?

I have since started to impliment the strategies suggested in PaperFlow and have documentend my journey through comments and photographs through my http://sduncan0101.posterous.com blog. I am still a long way from completing and setting up the system fully, but I am on the road to clearing the piles of paper polluting my life.


What strategies do you have to keep it under control ? 
What is your paper chaos costing you ?  How do you handle and manage the papers in your life ?




7 thoughts on “What’s your paper chaos costing you ?

  1. Mel Cashen

    Thanks for a wonderful post, Scott. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it certainly peaked my interest being a subject I hold close to my heart!

    I love to be organised! Paper sitting idly on my desk is a nightmare for me. Well actually if I am honest it is only a nightmare after 3.30pm!

    The kids in my class often marvel at my desk, thinking it might be something magical. When they arrive in the morning it is clean and fresh, not a stray piece of paper to be seen. By 3.30pm it looks like Everest.

    During school hours it becomes the dumping ground for everything – stray paper clips, unclaimed lunches, the newsletters, broken net book computers etc. In fact it is the place for any child who asks, ‘Where should I put this?’

    ‘On my desk!’

    Colleagues often marvel at my desk also – ‘How can you keep it so clean?’ The truth is that they only see it between 3.30pm and 8am – the ‘clean’ hours!

    I must admit that I am the most organised person I know but this is because I am not a good stresser! I hate the feeling of needing something and not finding it so I spend every waking hour ensuring this never happens!

    On the other side of this I have become the ‘go to’ person. Can’t find something? Don’t worry Mel will have it!

    Oh well, it could be worse!


  2. Lois Smethurst

    I had to laugh when I read this post. This is so me! Paper and I do not get on. I think that’s why I’m a computer person. I have spent a good part of the holidays trying to resolve the paper issues in my home office.
    It is much easier to clean out a linen cupboard or any cupboard because paper is so thin A full cupboard of paper is a lot of stuff to look at!
    My first step in the battle against the paper chaos was to buy a good, heavy duty hole punch so that I can put the 20%, that you recommend, away. I’m going to try using 2 ringed binders for storage.
    Now I’ve read your post I will continue the battle and be ruthless with the clean out.
    Thanks Scott
    Another great post!

  3. Scott Duncan Post author

    Hi Mel,

    I too love being organised as well – but paperwise it’s something that I do need to work on.

    I had to laugh when you mentioned the “Put it on my desk” comment. I too am guilty of doing that with students in my classes, only to end up with the Everest mountain at the end of the day also.

    We then had meetings most nights after school and by the time they were over the sight of my desk and the piles that lay before me were all just too hard and I figured they would still be there tomorrow!

  4. Scott Duncan Post author

    Hi Lois,

    I agree, being digitally organised is far easier ! If only my desk in real life had a “search” function to find things that became misplaced !

    Good Luck with your own paper battle.

  5. Mrs S

    Ah, yes, the ever accumulating pile of paper. I like my desk to be tidy but find that whilst involved in the creation of something the piles grow. Every now and then I have to stop, take stock and file – some into the bin and the rest into a filing cabinet. Once that is full it is time to revisit and weed out. A very hard task when you are a hoarder by nature.

  6. Melinda

    Hey Scott,
    Good luck with your P’aper’ goal for 2011 – to keep the paper warfare under control!
    I always use the mantra – that paper should only cross my desk once. Deal with it immediately. Doesn’t always work – I have a great collection of folders that need proper filing!
    That said, I do like the look of being organised by Kikki K and have spoilt myself with various treats from all the fun stationery shops.

    1. Scott Duncan Post author

      Hi Melinda,

      Kikki K is where I bought the book from and bought some of the items to get myself organised so far. Everything in there just looks so organised !

      I’ve just about finished tackling the filing cabinet – a bit of a tidy up and some labeling to take care of. Expect a post featuring an update soon.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *