Paper Clutter: Our Changing Relationship with Office File Cabinets

Excess paper files were once the bane of most offices. Today, the clutter is digital. In this video, Dr. Melissa Gratias reviews the evolution of office paper paradigms and offers solutions for those still weighed down by excess paper files.

Don’t want to watch the video?  A transcript is below.





Hi this is Dr. Melissa Gratias, and I’m a productivity specialist.  I help overworked and overwhelmed people feel focused, balanced, and successful.


Today, I am talking to you about the state of office paper and the practice of keeping files and files of paper in your office.  I’ve been working in my profession and doing productivity coaching and training since 2007.  I searched back through my testimonials from clients from the past 11 years.  I will use their testimonials to illustrate how our attitudes toward paper files have changed.


Here’s a testimonial from 2008.  She says:


The most beneficial/valuable thing that I learned was that all of the paper is not needed, we have just been taught that way.  A paradigm shift is needed to enhance our ability to be resourceful instead of relying on the traditional manner of maintaining duplicate paper documents. Not only has it reduced my paper and made me more organized, it has also enhanced my productivity.


At the time, in 2008, this executive with whom I worked was keeping files and files of paper because that was the paradigm.  She was saying that we needed to go through a paradigm shift.  We needed to change our attitudes towards paper.  That was in 2008.


Let’s fast forward five years later to 2013.  Here is a statement from a manager of a health care organization:


It was an incredible feeling to walk into my CLEAN office this morning and not be met with an overwhelming stack of papers to deal with.  I definitely feel a renewed sense of energy.  I shouldn’t have any surprises lurking in unread emails or forgotten papers, and I have a good system for addressing only the tasks that need to be done TODAY.


In 2013, the paper that this person was dealing with were action item-based papers.  It was a stack of paper on her desk that needed to be dealt with.  The paper represented tasks for her to do.


The 2008 client had files and files of reference folders.  In 2013, we had moved more toward actions we had paper.  There were things we needed to read, review, sign, edit, etc.  They were actions.


In 2018, which is when this video is being filmed, if you still have a paper problem, here are some things for you to think about.



Things to consider if you still have a paper problem



1.)  It might be you.


If you still have a paper problem, the first thing to consider is that it might be you. Everyone else around you may be on the paper-light wagon.  You may be the one who is stuck in old methods of doing something, or in fear-based decision making.


It may be as simple as changing your paradigm, like the executive that I mentioned in 2008.  She made a paradigm shift and let go of the way she had always been taught to manage her work.


If you still have a paper problem in 2018 and beyond, it may be you.  And you can change your behaviors.



2.)  Your papers are convenience copies.


Nowadays, paper is most likely a convenience copy or a duplicate of an official business record.  Unless the thing is written in crayon, it was printed out from an electronic file that exists on a server.  So, the paper is not the official business record, it is a convenience copy.


We don’t have to treat duplicates with the same amount of reverence or care that we do the official business record.  The electronic version is typically the official business record.  Even for scanned documents with signatures on them – in most instances the official business record is the electronic copy, not the one with the wet signature on it.



3.)  Paper files can be a huge risk for your company.


From a records and information management (RIM) standpoint, keeping excessive amounts of paper is a huge risk to companies.


Sometimes these papers are drafts, and things were changed before they were finalized.  If you have the draft paper, it can mislead you.  It can lead you down the wrong path because it could be an outdated version.


Additionally, in a legal discovery process, if you have not followed your company’s retention policies, you’ve made things worse.  You will have to turn over more information than you should have had to.  If you’ve got it, you got to give it to opposing counsel.


This is a nuanced records management issue, but keep in mind that over-keeping paper, that did not need to be kept according to legal/regulatory policy, can be a legal risk for your organization.



4.)  You can stop collecting paper today.


Here is something you can do.  You can stop collecting paper today, regardless of what you do with all the past paper you’ve collected.  You may have file cabinets of paper, but regardless of what happens to that, you can still stop collecting paper today.


You can draw a line in the sand and say, “I’m not going to continue building up this stuff.  I know I have a backlog of paper to purge or send to off-site storage, but it doesn’t mean I have to keep adding to it because that’s the way I’ve always done it.”


So, another thing to keep in mind is you can stop today.  You can stop your paper collecting habits today.



5.)  Paper limits your mobility.


One last thing to keep in mind about paper in 2018 (and beyond) is that paper is like a chain.  It chains a worker to an office, and it chains an entire organization to a particular location.


If you must have access to your paper files in order to work, then that’s going to dictate the answer to your question, “I wonder if I can work from home?”




What are you going to do, get a dolly and take your file cabinet with you to and from home?  If you are chained to file cabinets of paper, you are chained to your office.


If your company is chained to its file room, the company is chained to a particular geographic location.  Paper makes it a lot more difficult to be flexible and nimble and to move with the times.


I’m not saying paper is bad.  I promise you I’m not.  I still handwrite notes.  I still print things.  But, I have made a paradigm shift since I started my business in 2007.  Today, every piece of paper that I produce in my business either gets recycled, shredded, or scanned.  Paper is just a convenience copy to me and goes away quickly.


This is Dr. Melissa Gratias, productivity specialist.  If you like my videos, you will love working with me in a coaching scenario.  Please get in touch with me via email. All you have to say is “let’s talk”, and we will schedule a phone call where we both can assess whether productivity coaching is the right thing for you.  In the meantime, be productive and have a great day.


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.



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