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VOL. 44 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 4, 2020

Solutions for what was to be a paperless existence

By Terry McCormick

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File, file, read now, round file. Manuals, left cabinet, bottom drawer. Contracts, right file cabinet in the next room, along with receipts. And because you’ll generate more paperwork today, you’ll get to file again tomorrow and won’t that be fun?

Unless you read “The Paper Solution” by Lisa Woodruff, you’ll crumple.

Thirty years ago, when computers began to be ubiquitous in offices, there was a celebration: No more paper! But that, says Lisa Woodruff was never going to happen. In an average year, Americans receive some 4 million tons of “junk mail” alone. That’s not counting the paper your business generates internally.

So how much of it do you keep? Boomers, Woodruff says, are probably awash in paper, both theirs and their parents’ hoard. Even Gen Xers and millennials keep too much of it.

But there’s a way to eliminate the problem, starting with four steps and six boxes, marked To-Be-Sorted, Saved Papers, Shred, Trash, Recycle and Sunday Box.

Gather your paper piles, Woodruff says, and put them in the “To-Be-Sorted” box, which might seem like an extra step but it’s important because it allows you to see progress. Then, start on “The Big Purge,” sorting paper accordingly. Anything that needs immediate attention, bills or near-future events goes in the “Sunday Box.”

“The Paper Solution: What to Shred, What to Save, and How to Stop It From Taking Over Your Life”

by Lisa Woodruff

c.2020, Putnam

$18

307 pages

Be ruthless. Woodruff says we don’t need 85% of the paper we have. The manual for a TV you bought in 1996 is probably tossable. Ditto, the name tag for a conference you attended. You need to keep all the legal documents and tax info, but you’ll never try that recipe you cut out six years ago.

As for the “Sunday Box,” Woodruff explains how that streamlines your entire week ahead. Just an hour and a-half on one regular evening (she does it Sunday, hence the box’s name) could save you five hours of time, and it could make you more organized.

The dead trees that clutter your office and sit in the file cabinets lining your hallways didn’t get there overnight. At the very least, they took years to show up. And judging by what’s inside “The Paper Solution,” it could take weeks to make them disappear.

Yes, getting organized takes serious work, almost to the point of being a full-time job for a while. Even so, Woodruff, the author and a professional organizer, makes you want to do it by painting a lovely picture of serenity and never having to search for a document – although maintaining that Zen-like status also seems like constant work upon which only the most dedicated clutter-hater would embark.

If, however, you know the panic of lost paperwork – and who doesn’t? – the thought of experiencing it again might spur further examination of this book and, as Woodruff advises, the creation of a paper management system that works uniquely for you.

Be aware that the lion’s share of this book is for household users, but it won’t be a burden to translate “The Paper Solution” for business. Indeed, getting rid of paper isn’t just for the rank-and-file.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.

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