Help me! I am always engulfed in paper. It never seems to stop. What can I do to eliminate it? How can I use my computer more to avoid paper?
John, Branford, CT
Paperwork is the number one problem facing the majority of my clients. The solution for everyone is going to be different. As you point out, if you own a computer you have a great tool for eliminating the paper that clutters most desks and counters. Let me outline some ways that the computer can be used as an effective tool.
First, many of you use an e-mail program that provides you with valuable tools to manage paperwork electronically. Whether you are using Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or running your e-mail through Outlook you have the following tools at your disposal: Calendar, Task List, Address Book. These three items alone can eliminate at least 80% of your daily paperwork. In addition, you will be able to access your information anywhere there is an internet connection by signing into your account remotely. Let me explain how.
Your calendar can be the most effective tool for capturing your paper and planning your time. Every paper that comes into your home or office containing a date or schedule can immediately be placed on your calendar. On most digital calendars you will be able to enter the date, time, location and any other details you need from the paper in your calendar appointment. In addition, you can usually invite other people via e-mail by clicking a link right in the calendar entry so they can add the appointment to their calendar as well. Also, you will be able to easily color code your appointments. Your colors could be linked to each family member, your personal interests or volunteer activities, etc. Whatever you choose to do, you will be much more efficient with your paperwork if you can enter the data and toss the paper.
An electronic task list can also be an effective tool for eliminating all of those re-written lists and post-it notes that flood our desks. Most e-mail programs have a link to “Tasks.” Here you can create a master to do list for all of your notes to yourself as well as separate lists for specific projects. We all still write notes to ourselves, but if you make it a habit to enter those notes at least once a week into your task list you have a better chance of following up on items. In addition, when you enter a task you will be able to enter details about the task to remember, set a due date that traditionally appears as a reminder on your electronic calendar and even link the task to an e-mail in your inbox. Use the task function to eliminate papers that you are saving just to remember to do something. By recording the details electronically you will find your surfaces will clear dramatically.
Lastly, the electronic address book has many advantages. Here you can record all of your e-mail addresses, home and work addresses, phone numbers, etc. In addition, many of my clients use their electronic address books to record computer passwords, business contacts and other notes. What makes an electronic address book really useful is the ability to easily update an out of date address without crossing off old numbers in your traditional address book, and the ability to quickly search a keyword and find an address. If you enter data properly, you may not remember the name of the handyman you hired last year, but you could search the word handyman in your addresses and come up with the name and phone number in under 10 seconds. You can eliminate much of your business cards and torn off envelope corners containing contacts you want to remember by simply entering the data right on to your computer.
By using these three features in your current e-mail system you will be a master over your paperwork. For those of you who prefer a demonstration on how to effectively use your e-mail, I am offering two workshops to feature the most commonly used programs in October: Outlook and Gmail. For more information on the dates and times you can visit my website www.theorganizedlifestylestore.com and click on events and classes.