How to prevent paper overload: as a legislator or a staff member, you need a strategy for processing all the information that enters your office, or the new session will quickly morph into stress and chaos.

Author:Imholt, Betsy
Position:Tools Of The Trade

The start of every legislative session brings excitement, hope and a barrage of paper. As soon as the gavel drops, legislators and staff become the targets of interest groups, citizens, government representatives, lobbyists, staffers and other legislators. They are all bringing bills to sponsor, staff reports, correspondence, pamphlets, research, news articles, position papers--I could go on and on!

I once asked a veteran legislator how he kept his office so organized. He answered, "We're not a library." And he was right! You bear no responsibility to keep every piece of paper that comes across your desk. Studies have shown that 30 percent to 40 percent of all paper in the average organization is unnecessary. Most of this material consists of copies of documents maintained elsewhere within the organization.

Here is a five-step strategy to help you win the paper war.


Set up a system. Prepare yourself to process incoming paper by placing the proper tools at your fingertips. You'll definitely need a recycle can and a shredder within easy reach. Your paper will fall into one of three categories:

* Papers to keep.

* Papers to review then recycle.

* Papers to recycle immediately.


Decide what to keep. The paper you need to keep generally relates specifically to something you are working on. You also should keep any documents you yourself have created, such as correspondence, speeches and notes (Tip: Don't be afraid to keep these items electronically, rather than in hard copy--as long as you have a reliable back-up for your server; keeping documents in your computer is as safe as keeping them in a file cabinet). Once you've determined what you want to keep, schedule time to act on items that need action (e.g., correspondence that needs a response) and file those that don't.


Review it, then get rid of it. Papers often come across your desk that are interesting, but they may not relate directly to you or the projects you are working on. This is the kind of paper that can quickly overwhelm your desk if you keep it. Schedule time to skim the material that is interesting to you, then recycle it.


Toss out immediately. Much of the paper that comes your way does not apply to you. The sooner you get rid of these papers, the better. Do not feel guilty about throwing out something you don't need! The more paper you get rid of, the more easily you'll be able to find the information you actually need.


If you really need it, retrieve it. If you recycle...

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