End of the home paper chase. (column)
by Daniel Janal
Where is it?! The country registration certificate that proves I'm a business! I need to find it so I can apply for merchant status for a Visa or Mastercard. That way I'll be able to accept charge orders for my new book.
I know it's somewhere in this filing cabinet under my desk. Or maybe it's in the carton of business papers in the closet - under six other cartons of client files.
I know I ca find it 30 seconds - faster than a speeding hard disk - if only I can dig out from 30 pounds of computer magazines that piled up since I went to a computer convention for a week.
That's when I decided to accept the guru's prophecy and use my computer to create the paperless office.
You remember that computers promised us an office without paper. That's the worst lie since this program is so easy to use don't need a manual. Computers made it so easy to create paper that we created more paper rather that less.
That's why I spent the better part of Thanksgiving weekend deciding what to keep.
The first thing I realized is that I need paper. I need originals of tax-related information, copies of client invoices and checks, my checks and bank statements, creative material, and important client correspondence, such as agreements and orders.
I don't need voluminous printed versions of CYB (Cover Your Behind) memos, interim reports, and minor correspondence, which were all created on the computer years ago with my word processor, spreadsheet, and database programs and since safely stored on wafer-thin floppy disks.
Then I got down to the nitty-gritty. I asked myself these questions: Do I need 500 press releases for a company that no longer exits? Will I use 100 copies of my company newsletter, circa 1986? I devised Janal's Two-Year Test for Throwing Out Junk. Ask yourself, Have I looked at this document in the past two years? If the answer is no, then ask yourself, If I get sued, will I need this? If the answer is still no, then toss it.
Two hours later, I had reduced the contents of six huge cartons of files to half of a filing cabinet of material. Besides the financial and tax material stored elsewhere, I saved copies of initial letters of agreements, letters of praise, and two copies of each creative piece on the assumption that my biographer and the Smithsonian Institution will want to store those documents in their files.
I also became one of the largest single donors to the Dominican College of Blauvelt when I shipped it six milk crates full of complimentary computer software that I was never going to use. Then I went through my desk and read the labels on files.
Let's see. . . . Resumes from People I'm Not Going to Hire. I can get rid of that one.
Then there's News Articles I Should Read but Don't Have the Time and Never Will. And, of course, Weak-Willed Warranties and Incomprehensible Instructions for Every Electronic Gadget I Own. Well, that one might be useful.
My favorite file was from a computer company that printed this message in inch-high type: "How to be prepared for that inevitable day when your boss asks you for everything you know about DCA." I thought it was a cute promotion. But since I'm my own boss and I don't have any clients interested in this company, I don't need to know everything about it. Toss it.
Why is it I can't find files for Hot Business Prospects I Should Call in Six Months, Mentors Who Will Tell Me Their Secrets If I Buy Them Lunch at Denny's, and Clients Who Owe Me Scads of Money? Those files are impossible to find - even with color-coded tabs.
I finally found the business license. It was in a file with no label.
Here's what I do now.
Make a commitment to rely on the computer for the documentation. No paper backups, except revenue-producing invoices, orders, and reports. Everything else is stored on disk. I back up disks monthly, and I store them in my safety deposit box at the bank. This helps me save even more space.
Every month after I've sent out invoices, I copy files from hard disk to floppies - one for each client. Each disk has these same subdirectories: letters, reports, publications (creative), invoices. This consistency makes the job easy and manageable. A year's worth of work for one client with a larger account might spill onto a second disk around July or August.
With color-coded disks for each client, I can find the right disk easily.
Color-coded disk boxes help me categorize the disks: my clients, my company (reports, spreadsheets, marketing materials), and my book.
I went through thousands of business cards, throwing out those for companies that were bankrupt, useless to my business, or unknown.
Then I typed the remaining ones into Hotline, an autodialer that sits on my hard disk. Hotline has a notepad, so I can record the reminder message I scribbled on the back of the card.
I still don't have a paperless office. I have a less-paper office. You can, too, if you adapt these steps to meet your business needs.