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.)
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