Can you find what you need quickly?

How do you feel when you’re unable to find something? Annoyed? Frustrated? Determined to find what you’re looking for? Personally, I get frustrated because my life’s too busy with work and family activities to waste time inefficiently.

On the flipside, I believe there’s greater clarity when we're organised because we know what we have and where it is. It’s also positive reinforcement of being in control that our systems work when we easily find what we want.

At home what areas do you have organised well? In most homes the cutlery draw in the kitchen has some form of grouping (spoons together, forks together etc) to such an extent that even entering a stranger’s house for the first time you could easily understand and follow the logic in place.

What about areas that aren’t organised so well? I often hear people say they don’t really have a system for storing receipts throughout the year for their tax. Therefore, it becomes a big job trying to remember what to claim and then time consuming searching for it at taxation time.

Did you know it’s possible to get help if you’re unable to get on top of clutter at home (clothes, study, garage etc) or business (paperwork, electronic records etc.)? There’s professional organisers in Australia, however the industry is much larger in the USA.

A complaint of many workers is there’s too much information to keep abreast of. I look at it a bit differently as I believe having access to more data to be an advantage over previous generations, but the issue is too many people don’t really know how to store and retrieve the information.

Research group IDC conducted a global survey around challenges when working with documents. What they found was wasted time cost organizations 21.3% or approximately $19,000 per information worker per year. The key challenges were having to search through emails for attachments, compile feedback, wait for approval and other typical issues when producing documents. Now all of the lost time wasn’t due to not being able to find documents, but think about how much time you potentially waste either searching or not having the required information readily at hand.

Personally I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder so it’s really important that I have a good system to manage whatever I keep. My consulting practice specialises in helping people and the organisations they work for be more effective at what they do. An initial activity I do is to review how paper and email are stored. Some of the things I’ve found at workstations with workplace clean-up’s include:

  • Receipts for expenses
  • Long lost key documents
  • Money (yes real dollars!!)
  • Credit card (ok this was only once)
  • Irrelevant out of date documents (how about a procedure that was obsolete 15 years ago?)
  • Dust and dirt

With inboxes there’s usually lots of unnecessary emails (the most I’ve seen was 14,000 emails!!!).

If you want to improve managing information at work, what can you do about it? It starts with a strategy - I recommend subject matter filing. Consider:

  • Email – determine whether to file by folders or have a crowded inbox. If going with the folder option try to keep it reasonably simple as too many folders can contribute to it being too difficult to manage, whereas too few might not be specific enough
  • Paper files – what has to be filed, how long do you need to keep it for and what can be thrown out

Finally, if you’re able to use the same filing system for email, drives on your computer and paper documents then in no time information storage and retrieval will be as easy as 1, 2, 3.