© Jan Jasper; 2001-2012
Information should be stored in a consistent manner so you can quickly find it later. Otherwise you'll forget
what's where, and you'll waste time hunting for things. At worst, you won't even remember
where to look, which means valuable information is forgotten about. Here are some things to consider:
Avoid Keeping Related Information in Many Different Places
Let's take phone numbers and addresses. Many folks have a patchwork system. They've got
some contacts in their iPhone, others in their desktop or laptop computer, others in an old Palm they can't quite let go of,
and maybe still others in an old paper phonebook or a stack of well-worn business cards. Finding a phone number or address
is difficult, not to mention sending your holiday greeting cards.
If you work from more than one location, it's a challenge to pull all this together so you have people's contact
information with you when you need it. The fewer places you keep contact information, the better.
Visual Cues Help You Find Things
Even if you're consistent in where you store information, there's another thing to consider: Most of us rely on visual cues.
Seeing the yellow folder on our desk reminds us to work on The Big Project. We easily locate the notes made at yesterday's meeting
because they're in our spiral pad. When we need to find a phone message, we look for small pink message slips. We easily locate things
by color, thickness, and size. While the visual cues are fewer, to some extent you still can color-code in the computer.
Color-Coding Things in the Computer
A big challenge when moving away from paper is that in the computer, every appointment, every document can look
the same, in an identical light-gray slot or yellow folder icon. The visual cues you've relied on are gone. For your
computer calendar, the solution is to color-code - for example, project deadlines in red, work for a particular client in blue,
and so on. You can also color code your email. This is very easy to do in Outlook.*
Minimize Your Reliance on Paper
To avoid making notes on paper that are easily lost, type ideas you get for client work into a
WORD doc named "client name - miscellaneous" stored in the same computer folder as other documents for that client or project.
You can also type these miscellaneous bits of information and reminders in the Comment
box in the client's Outlook Contact record. You wouldn't do this for things like a reminder that the meeting is at
3:00, but it's a good way to track substantive information that is of enduring value, or will eventually be used for a project.
Reach for the Keyboard
Reach for your keyboard instead of a piece of paper when you want to jot something down. For example, instead of writing a reminder
to yourself to e-mail Bob an update, just start a new email to Bob
with "Update" in the subject header, type in a few words, then save it in your Drafts folder so you can finish and send
it later. When you get an idea for a project you're involved in, type
it into a WORD file and save that with other files on the same project. How can you get into the habit? Hide the note paper
and move the keyboard to center stage on your desk so it's actually easier to type than to scribble a note.
Your Own Personal Paper/Digital Divide
I don't think any of us will ever have a totally paperless office, and that's perfectly OK. Where you put the dividing line
between paper and digital is a matter of personal preference. You'll have to experiment and see what works for you.
Do try to be consistent in how you store information - keep related information in as few places as possible so it's not
always a mystery of where to find things.
The less paper you handle, the more time you'll save. Another advantage
is that information stored digitally can be backed up, which protects you against total data loss if there's a fire or flood in
your office. It does take some getting used to, but the sooner you move to a less-paper office, the sooner you'll start
saving time and money.
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and identify me as follows: "Jan Jasper, a productivity expert in the New York City area, is the author
of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press)."
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