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The Problem with Paper and Phones


Many people’s offices become a giant “to-do” list: stacks of papers, “some day” stacks, files, letters, in-boxes, out-boxes, phone messages, Post-it® notes, etc. lying around all screaming for attention. Here are some useful hints for silencing the “paper talk,” which can easily cost you an hour a day in looking for things and by being distracted by other things while searching.

Clean your desk! Put any in/out boxes in a drawer or behind you on a credenza (or even outside your office)—but not on your desk.

Make them real in-boxes or out-boxes, not miscellaneous files.

Discard all non-relevant documents (up to 85 percent of the documents retained by an organization will never be looked at again).

Remove all items from your desk (each piece of paper on your desk can easily distract your attention as often as five times a day).

Reorganize your shelves; give preference to shelves rather than filing cabinets. You can see your “stuff” when it’s on a shelf, and there’s a 10 to 15 percent space saving.

Identify, organize and label all your files clearly.

Avoid fat files by all means; subdivide subjects and group these sub-files into a larger file.

Color code files and folders (for example, red file folders for marketing, green for customers, etc.).


Outbound Calls. Plan your telephone calls. Make a brief note of what you want to say and what you want to find out before you make the call.

Try not to be placed on hold for more than one minute. Instead, agree on a time to call back, or leave a message and your phone number. However, if you know you won’t get the return call, it may be wise to hold.

If someone is unavailable, find out the best time to call back and make the call at that time. In any case, always leave your number.

If you need to make regular calls, agree on a mutually beneficial time.

Leave brief yet clear and detailed voice mail messages. Don’t just identify yourself and ask for a return call. Give the person a reason to call you back and the information they need to make the next call productive.

Inbound Calls. If possible, train your staff to screen calls and, as appropriate, refer them to others.

Let the caller know if you have any time constraints.

Always keep a pen and pad by the phone.

If you get a call asking for information you don’t have immediately at hand, don’t look for it while you are on the phone; rather, arrange to call back later with the information.

Spend only a brief time on personal topics; they’ve called about business.

About the Author

L. Douglas Mault is president of the Executive Advisory Institute, Yakima, Wash. See his ad on page 133.

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