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Time management - Paperwork



Documentation and general paperwork seem to take up more and more of each day. It exists for all sorts of reasons:

  • Recording critical information.
  • Policies and procedures.
  • Legal documents etc.

This increased need for paperwork can become all consuming at the cost of managing the issues of a project and finding time for creative thinking. Sometimes days may drift past just catching up on paperwork that you have put to one side.


This can be a major problem, not just for individuals but for the entire company. We store documents in many places.


  • On the desk
  • In the desk
  • Local filing cabinets
  • Filing cabinets that have expanded into corridor space
  • Central filing areas
  • Offsite archives
  • At home

How long for?

Unfortunately many people are reluctant to dispose of documents ‘just in case’ they are needed. We often keep multiple copies for fear of losing the original or for easy access.

You must develop a system for storing documents in a sensible way and for particular periods which have associated criteria.

  • 1 week
  • 1 month
  • 1 year
  • Many numbers of years

The latter is usually as a result of legal and validation documentation in support of product applications, for example, in the Pharmaceutical industry. Many document audits need access to the original document containing specific signatures. So, how do we make a start at setting up this system?

Handling system

General screening:
  • Try to throw away as much as possible. By this I mean you have got to be tough and not hold on to documents that you feel may be Important later. If they do become important the chances are you will see the information again. If you have an assistant you can give them the authority To carry out this initial screening of the daily influx of documents. Try to make an effort to agree a system with your assistant. Don’t fall into the Trap of looking at everything just in case. A good experienced assistant will quickly know what is rubbish and what will need your attention.

If the assistant can actually deal with some of the mail or file it then so much the better. This may require a first pass through you to establish What needs to be done for next time.

  • If you can pass it on to someone else to deal with more efficiently (or to train and gain experience) then do so.
  • For non urgent tasks try to file them. This may be using the system referred to earlier under ‘being disorganised’.
  • This should leave only those files that need action urgently and that require input from yourself.

If you have an assistant working through the screening process you should be presented with a ‘today’ set of folders that only contain What you need to deal with on that day, whether it is ‘to-do’, ‘urgent’ or ‘telephone’ etc.

Specific documents

Reports and journals:

All reports should have a summary page that outlines its key aspects. Start there and only read the detail if the summary warrants it. Further comments on reports and the reporting process can be found elsewhere [see ‘The Complete Project Management package’] and [see 'The Complete Project Management plus PRINCE2'].

  • There are a lot of journals for specific professions.
  • It may be easier to subscribe on line which can usually be searched easily.
  • If you can absorb the key points faster, before reading the detail, you will save a lot of time.
  • If journals are circulated put your self at the end of the list. If you ask staff to highlight items it will give you an idea of the interest in The journal and you may be able to stop the subscription.


We have discussed a little of how to handle paperwork coming in but not going out. It is up to you to do your bit and make this as efficient as possible and save a few trees.

Telephone or email:

This often easier, faster and saves a lot of time. It is often more accurate and easier to clarify issues because of the speed of communication.


Give as much as possible to your assistant.

General efficiency:

Be concise and try not to keep going over it to make it a work of art. Although, sloppy punctuation, even in emails can give the wrong impression To your boss. If you can, generate a few templates to save a little time.


This is not every ones cup of tea and requires a little practice. Even if you think you will sound funny or unclear it is unlikely that your assistant Will agree with you.


Particular reports should always have a standard format. This makes them easier for you to put together and for others to digest. This is often the case for reports that will be filed in a central archive.

Procedures and policies:

Any organisation developing a continued flow of documentation should develop policies and procedures for their use. For example, You might wish to clarify within the procedure the document template, circulation list, original / copy location, numbering system etc.

Document clear out:

If you had the luxury (or courage) to have a company day just throwing away unwanted documentation you would probably free up A lot of space and create a mountain of shredded paper. If documents are not accessed after about 4 weeks the chances Are they never will be.

Day files:

If you have 31 folders labelled 1 to 31 they represent each day of the month. It is then a simple matter to put all items deferred for action On a particular day in that folder. If you expect an action to be complete on, say, the 16th put the paperwork in file 16 to look at on that day. When the documents have been dealt with file or dispose. See elsewhere, see ‘filing notes’ and ‘day files’.

Electronic organisers:

Of course many aspects of paperwork can be carried out using electronic organisers. You will have to review their features and decide just Where and how they are able to help you.


You will need to set up and agree a system with your assistant. When a piece of paperwork is complete make a note on the document of the date, Where it should be filed and for how long. A simple code is required to identify month (M), year (Y), 2 years (Y+2), permanent (P), central archive (C) Etc.

Non - PRINCE2 information