Taming the paper tiger

By Deanne Gage | September 8, 2006 | Last updated on September 8, 2006
3 min read

(September 2006) Many of you are deluged with administration and compliance-related issues, especially all that paper and e-mail that clogs your workspace. It’s no wonder you feel buried. In fact, most workers do, to the point where important items get lost among the clutter.

A recent study from Communicare, a Toronto-based consulting firm, found nearly two-thirds of people missed key information occasionally, while about one-quarter missed crucial data “often.”

I can just imagine the employer response to statistics like this. “It’s Fred’s problem if he missed the boat on that one; we gave him early notice by e-mail and our intranet.”

Sure, there are countless communication mediums out there, but having these tools hasn’t done anything to improve our actual communication skills or make us more efficient. Do you ever notice how long it takes many e-mail senders to get to the point? After returning from a three-week holiday, I had almost 1,000 e-mails to sift through.

In more than a few e-mails, I had to read through more than a page of preamble before understanding its purpose. And the gist would often be something as simple as “the meeting has been cancelled” or “do you have the updated file?”

In other words, something that could have been put in the e-mail subject line and requires a direct answer such as “Roger that” or “The updated file is attached.” Something that should have taken 10 seconds of my time, instead of 10 minutes. If only life were that simple.

Instead I’ve been forced to become scrupulous with the time I spend on e-mail correspondence. I try to keep mine brief and to the point. If an issue is more complex, I’m more inclined to pick up the phone or go see the individual. I’m also trying to limit how often I check my e-mail — definitely not easy.

As for reducing actual e-mail clutter, I highly recommend my new sorting process:

Delete the spam pronto

You would think the company spam filter would catch most of this junk but the spamsters keep coming up with more ingenious ways of getting my attention, quite often rhyming with the word “Niagara.” Unfortunately, these e-mails only go so far before meeting their fate.

Delete the dubious

Many people read every piece of non-spammed e-mail they receive. Not I, my friends. If I don’t recognize your name and the subject line isn’t applicable to this magazine or industry, it’s in the trash box faster than you can say “advisor.”

Use e-mail folders

The remaining e-mails are placed into folders that are subsections of my inbox. Each folder is weighted in terms of priority. I have folders for internal editorial staff, company/division, news releases, letters from readers and so on.

Address priority e-mails right away

For you, that would likely mean any correspondence from your clients since they’re your bread and butter. My system is hardly perfect — there is still plenty to read — but at least everything’s organized.

How are you purging your clutter? Let us know and we’ll publish your responses in an upcoming issue of Advisor’s Edge. Since reducing paperwork is a common problem for advisors, your peers will greatly appreciate it.

Deanne Gage is editor of Advisor’s Edge, deanne.gage@advisor.rogers.com


Deanne Gage