Productivity Tip: Purge Unneeded Paper to Save Time


Declutter paper with the help of a free shred day.

Did you know that October is National Clean Out Your Files Month? Yippee! A great way to celebrate would be to purge all of the papers in your office that you don’t need or want…the papers that are getting in the way whenever you’re looking for something you do need or want. Yes, we live in a digital era and much of what we need to keep can be scanned, but 100% paperless offices are pretty rare.

Studies show that individuals lose an average of 30 minutes per day looking for papers and files in their offices. That adds up to 10 hours of lost time per month. Boo! That’s no fun!

A common roadblock to purging paper in an office is not knowing what to keep and what to toss. Even though I’m a women’s keynote productivity speaker who knows her stuff, and the list below is just about foolproof, it’s always best to check with your legal and tax representatives for the precise answers for your situation (both personal and business). Below are a few general tips:

What you truly need to keep:

Proof of identity

Proof of ownership

Proof of correct tax return numbers/calculations

Proof of legal, tax, government, investment and real estate transactions that still affect your business today

Current client / patient files


Keep for 7 years for tax/IRS purposes:

All supporting documents used in filing your returns

(Technically, you only need to save docs for three years, but if your company gets audited and the IRS questions anything, they can ask for up to seven years of documents.)


Keep Indefinitely:

Legal documents with original signatures

Real estate transaction documents with original signatures


What you can toss:

Papers that don’t fall into one of the above categories

Papers/information you can access online

Papers that have been scanned and have a digital back-up


Each business should set its own paper retention policy so that employees know what to keep and for how long. Many industries require patient and client records to be kept for up to ten years. Forward-thinking businesses can set up productivity days and let employees do this together. I love spending a full day at a company to facilitate this. We have productivity workshops in the morning, purging and organizing time during the day, then a wrap-up workshop at the end of the day. A set-up like this is efficient because you only have one day of interruptions – people asking questions about what to keep, what to toss, where to store stuff, who needs to handle what – instead of constant interruptions throughout the year when employees do this on an individual basis.


Once you decide what you can purge, how can you get your shredding done in a hurry?

You can take your papers to a shredding company.

You can arrange for a shredding company to pick up your papers and shred on the spot.

You can drop off your papers at big box office supply stores that offer shredding services. (Note that many contract with the shredding companies for pick-ups, so you need to ensure that your papers will be in a locked facility until pick up.)

You can look for a free shred day in your area. Popular months for the free shred day events are:

January – National Get Organized Month

April – usually the first Saturday after April 15 (tax day)

October – National Clean Out Your Files Month, National Secure your ID day, and October 15 is a tax deadline for many companies and individual with extensions


Happy Purging!


Women’s keynote productivity speaker tip: Purge unneeded paper to save time.

About Helene Segura

As The Inefficiency Assassin™, Time Management Fixer Helene Segura empowers professionals on the go with the tools to slay lost time. Personal inefficiency at work leads to increased stress levels, lower morale, higher absenteeism, more turnover – and rising spending on employee health care and hiring. Why not improve productivity, decrease stress levels, and increase profits instead? The author of four books – two of which were Amazon best-sellers – Helene Segura has been the featured organization expert in more than 200 media interviews. She has coached hundreds of clients to productivity success and performance improvement by applying neuroscience and behavioral modification techniques to wipe out destructive, time-wasting habits. Helene turns time management on its head by sharing both client case studies and pop culture examples to teach her mind-bending framework for decreasing interruptions, distractions and procrastination so that companies can spend more time generating revenue.

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