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April 1992

Cracking down on the paper parade. (Management of an Accounting Practice)

by Johnson, Daniel

    Abstract- Paperwork can greatly reduce the efficiency of a company's operation. The best way to deal with this would be to launch a company-wide overhaul of a company's operations to ensure that paperwork is kept to a minimum. A manager working for a company that is not prepared to conduct such an overhaul has two choices. The manager may choose to leave the situation as is, a decision which would only serve to exacerbate the problem. On the other hand, the manager could, as an individual, seek ways by which to reduce the amount of paper clutter in the office he or she manages. An eight-question quiz is provided to help such managers decide on how to initiate an individual campaign to reduce paper clutter. The answers to the quiz provide several valuable insights as to how best to go about reducing the amount of paperwork in an office.

Many companies are bogged down in paperwork. As a manager, you have two choices. You can try to change the system or you can do your best as an individual to reduce the clutter of paperwork at your own desk.

A classic example of the first approach took place in 1956 when Sir Simon Marks, chairman of the British retail chain Marks and Spencer, ordered a study to be done on its paperwork system. It resulted in a war against paperwork that eliminated 26 million cards and sheets of paper weighing 120 tons. Profitability increased while staff numbers decreased.

Corporation worldwide have benefited from studying this example and applying it to their own situation. If your company has not or is not prepared to change, then take this opportunity to quiz yourself and begin to improve.

You will not find a scale of how you rate compared with others when you finish these questions, because how you handle your paperwork is a personal matter. How would you respond to each of the following pieces of paper that arrived on your desk? There is no right or wrong answer.

The Questions ...

1. A memo from your boss regarding the absenteeism rate in your area. 2. A letter from a client complaining about their service contract. 3. A monthly computer publication with relevant articles you intend to read. 4. A memo from another department requesting a copy of a recent report. 5. Sales figures to be included in a quarterly report. 6. An urgent request form a supplier that requires follow up with three people before responding. 7. A brochure about a seminar you are not sure if you will attend. 8. A personalized letter from a firm that has been referred to you, from another division of your company, requesting an appointment.

... And the Answers

Now let us discuss responses to each of these. Although there may be several "right" answers, my suggestions are designed to ensure you are using your time effectively and not just acting out of habit. Habits often evolve and lose their initial purpose without your realizing it. 1. A handwritten not directly onto the memo is probably the most appropriate response. If it requires a lengthy explanation, dictate your answer, then have it stapled to the original memo and sent directly back to your boss. 2. Set the letter aside in pending file of people to phone, then call the person that day during your routine telephone time. Remember to group outgoing calls together rather than acting on impulse. 3. Whatever you do, don't leave the publication sitting on your desk for days in a spot where it will distract you. Set it on a side table or in a bookcase out of sight. Devote time to reading non-urgent information in your low energy times such as late in the day or on Friday afternoons. 4. Write a brief response on the memo and make the copy when you are up and near the copier anyway. If you have a personal assistant, just write |please handle' on a piece of paper and leave it to her or him. 5. Your probably already have a file on this subject. Place the new item in the file when are filing other items away. Do not let it linger on your desk. 6. First decide, based on your priorities, if the request is truly urgent. Assuming that it is, leave the letter on the middle of your desk as you make the required calls. Take notes on the original and dictate your response immediately. If you are awaiting return calls, leave the letter in sight and refer to it when the caller returns. Once finished, have it filed away. 7. If you cannot decide if you want to attend or not, throw the brochure into a junk drawer and make a note of the date in your dairy. If you decide later to attend, then finish the brochure out and send it in. Periodically -- every month to sixe weeks -- sort through the drawer and throw out the information you know you will not need. 8. If you are keen, call them at your convenience to arrange an appointment. If not, jot a not on the original explaining your lack of interest in one or two lines under a stamp that reads "For Your Convenience -- Speedy Reply." This will reduce unnecessary telephone interruptions.

By Daniel Johnson, Managing Director of Daniel Johnson Presentations, Toorak, Victoria, Australia, convention speaker, and author

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