The fact is that, for the past 30 years, most businesses have not valued the services I had to offer. My biggest competitors were “apathy” and “resignation.” Some organizations felt that disorganization wasn’t really a bottom line issue -- and certainly not a “must have.” Others made attempts at “getting organized,” but the results were less than desirable, or more often non-sustainable. I was never successful at documenting effectively the costs of disorganization or the benefits of organization, and so I plodded along as a business, know that was I was doing was changing lives -- but not making enough sales to demonstrate the true value of the products/services we offered.

Suddenly the situation has changed.

The New Demand

The days of working in one office from 8:30 to 5:30, and then going home are over! Clients require information 24/7, and employees work from a variety of locations. A paper filing system in the office is worthless if you’re responding to a client from your home, while commuting, from another office in your own company, or the office of a client or prospect. The ability of anyone to accomplish their work is based on their access to the information they need when they need it. Almost Paperless™ is crucial for doing business in the 21st century.

When the concept of “paperless” was first introduced, people assumed that “paperless” mean “automatically organized.” In fact, we discovered just the opposite was true. If you have a pile of 1,000 papers, it might take a while, but you could thumb through them and find what you need. If you have electronic documents, which can be stored on various drives in various formats, you may never find what you are looking for.

In addition, the technology wasn’t sophisticated enough to make paperless truly viable. Fortunately, we’re nearly out of that “awkward” stage. We’ve discovered the advantages of being “connected” virtually all of the time in a variety of ways, of having multiple computer monitors on our desks for maximum productivity, and of programs designed to protect passwords which we change frequently for additional security.

The day will come when the technology will make going total paperless an option, but we’re not there yet. For example, I met with the CEO of a company who just joined the board of a local non-profit organization. The first thing he received was a 3-inch binder of documents pertinent to the organization. Scanning it all is not really practical, or even necessary, so for now keeping the binder is the best option. The day will come when the organization will have an electronic notebook, and the binder will become unnecessary, thus saving time, space, energy and money.

The New Records Management

For decades, records management has been designed to protect companies/individuals by documenting the process behind decision-making. This is no longer viable for two major reasons: 1) Cost of litigation and 2) Pace of business.

In the past, attorneys told employees “If in doubt, keep it!” With the change in the federal laws regarding litigation, compliance has become outrageously expensive -- the cost of producing a single page is estimated at five dollars. This results in hundreds of thousands of dollars of expense for a single lawsuit, and untold hours of lost productivity due to employees being required to produce documents and appear in court. This fact makes creating and executing records management policies crucial.

Educating employees on the six records management questions is essential:
1. What information do I need to keep?
2. In what form?
3. For how long?
4. Who is responsible for filing the information?
5. Who needs access to it?
6. How can we find it?

Avoiding the Blame Game

If you ask any 100 employees, “If you had the time, are there papers in your files you could comfortably throw away?” Ninety-nine of them would answer “Yes!” But who goes to work and says “I don’t have anything else to do; I’m going to clean out my files.” In fact, if they do, others become annoyed, and the person cleaning is hampered because often they need the cooperation of others in the company to make decisions about what they can safely eliminate.

Management complains that records are a mess because of employee indifference and employees refrain from throwing anything away for fear of being required to produce it again! In fact, a successful records management program requires participation by at least three entities:
1. Management, who determines the records management philosophy of the organization
2. Legal, who determines what is predicated by law
3. Employees, who know what information they need to accomplish their work

The Crucial First Step

When an organization is ready to move to Almost Paperless™, the first step is to eliminate all the existing unnecessary paper. An effective method is to hold an event I call a “Productive Environment Day™.” I define a “Productive Environment™ as “an intentional setting in which everything around you supports who you are and who you want to be.” The Productive Environment Day™ is an event that provides employees an opportunity to eliminate the clutter. (OPTIONAL SIDEBAR: Productive Environment Day Checklist for 18 tips for a successful outcome.)

Everyone works together to peel off the first layer of unnecessary papers. In my experience, if the event is set up properly, the results are astounding! One company with 400 employees held a series of 12 Productive Environment Day events in which they addressed both paper and electronic files. With employees working in their offices for only two hours on paper, a total of 25,000 pounds of paper was sent for recycling! A small non-profit organization with 30 people spent six hours cleaning files and recycled 6,000 pounds of paper.

A Win-Win Outcome

Everyone wins as a result of a Productive Environment Day! In the case of a company that is moving, there is a savings of thousands of dollars in moving costs, time spent unpacking after the move, and savings in cost of equipment and real estate space. The day itself provides an increase in awareness of individual productivity -- and the principles carry over into the participant’s personal life. After every event, I hear stories of people applying what they learned at home.

The Opportunity Ahead

As Tom Henning, President of Assurity Life Insurance, put it: “If you are moving to a paperless environment, it is difficult to do so without the assistance of a professional. Barbara Hemphill has applied many of the same principles she’s developed for paper management into the management of electronic documents. With the advent of electronic discovery, her principles are even more important and could potentially save companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in avoiding costly legal discovery expenses.”

There are thousands of organizations, large and small, that will be moving to Almost Paperless™. There will need to be many “Barbara Hemphills” to help them. If you’d like to own your own business, or add an additional income stream to an existing business, here’s your opportunity! The Certified Productive Environment Specialist (CPES) training will provide you the methodology, mechanics, and marketing you need to be successful. Together We Are Better!

©Barbara Hemphill 2010

Author's Bio: 

Barbara Hemphill is a celebrated international speaker, a pioneer in the field of professional organizing and a consultant to major corporations worldwide.

Nicknamed “The Paper Tiger Lady,” Barbara is the author of several books, including Kiplinger’s bestselling “Taming the Paper Tiger,” book series. In 1997, she helped launch Taming the Paper Tiger software, the first computer file search solution.

She recently launched iPEP (interactive Productive Environment Platform), software that allows users to find physical information, electronic information, and ideas with a keyword search.

She has an international team of Certified Productive Environment Specialists™ who help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment™.
Also called “America’s Favorite Organizer,” Barbara is the mastermind behind The Productive Environment Day™ and Almost Paperless™, as well as The 8-Hour Miracle™.

She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband. She has five children and four grandchildren.