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TM Article 3

How To Manage Paper Quicker, Better, Faster

by Rajen Devadason

We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.

Wernher von Braun



Letís face it. The promise of the Computer Revolution giving birth to the Paperless Office has proven to be an unmitigated lie. Thereís now more paper filling up our workspaces, and our lives, than ever before.

How is anyone expected to keep on top of it all?

Good question.

I donít have all the answers, but I do know three strategies that will help you win your personal battle against the multi-headed hydra named TooMuchPaperWork.

None of these are hard-and-fast rules.

Experiment with each one, and then customise them to your circumstances. If you do, youíll create an intelligently personalised workflow system to subdue your paper monster.

Strategy 1: Single-handle your paper

Strategy 2: Use the TRAF system

Strategy 3: Establish two work trays and several filing cabinets


Strategy 1: Single-handle your paper

Establish a single place to collect all incoming paperwork in your office. Then schedule regular points in your workday, perhaps at 10 am and again at 3 pm, when you will take a break from whatever project youíre working on to open your paper-based mail.  

As you pick up each sheet of paper, ruthlessly decide if itís worth keeping. Determine to move that piece forward within your personal workflow system.


Strategy 2: Use the TRAF system

The best way I know to create an individualised paper-bearing conveyor belt is to begin by customising an excellent system created by time management consultant Stephanie Winston. She calls it TRAF.

It requires us to always do one of only four things with whatís in our hands:

Toss, Refer, Act or File.

So, as you scan the piece of paper youíre holding, decide if itís worth spending any more of your finite lifespan on Earth working on or even looking at it again. If the answer is no, toss it into the Ďcircular filing cabinetí, your wastepaper basket!

If the answer is yes, try first to refer it to someone else. This means you attempt to delegate responsibility for action on that paperís contents to a peer or subordinate. If that isnít possible, either act on it yourself or file it for future reference.

If youíre going to act on it, slip it into your Action folder for rapid relocation into a project file. If you merely need to keep it accessible, file it in the correct place.  


Strategy 3: Establish two work trays and several filing cabinets 

Keep your important files in accessible filing cabinets, cupboards or shelves. In structuring Ė or restructuring Ė the layout of your workspace, make sure the area closest to your main workspace is reserved for files that you reference most often. Move storage places out in concentric circles until material referenced least often is kept furthest away.

Finally, clear your desk of all loose papers and put just two work trays on it.

Mark one Ongoing Projects and the other My-Right-Now-Task. Those papers youíve chosen to act on will invariably relate to some ongoing project. Keep them in slim, brightly coloured files or even clear plastic folders that are labelled by project title.

Decide on the one thing you want to work on based on your daily To-Do-List, which should be prioritised in order of value- and goal-importance. Then select the relevant slim file and put it on your My-Right-Now-Task tray.

When youíre ready to work on it, feel free to spread your papers around on your desk and knuckle down to work; butÖ if youíre going to move away from your desk for more than 15 minutes, first put all your papers back in their file and put that file on one of your two trays.

This means youíll almost always return to a clear desk. Trust this recovering clutter-bug when I assure you having a clear desk will help you focus attention, reduce stress, increase productivityÖ and ultimately make loads more money!


© Rajen Devadason


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Rajen Devadason, CEO RD WealthCreation Sdn Bhd & RD Book Projects
349, Desa Rasah, Jalan Bayan 7, 70300 Seremban, NS, Malaysia
Tel/Fax: +606 632 8955