When I was a full-time records management and archives consultant, one of my tasks was to conduct surveys of our clients’ files and assess their recordkeeping practices. Despite the wide range of business conducted by our clients, the themes of their file-management stories were depressingly similar:
- Outdated or nonexistent file management plans
- No centralized colllection points or dedicated staff
- Uncertainty about who was responsible for keeping what
- No guidance on how long to keep files
- Paperwork management not integral to day-to-day operations
Their combined inertia inevitably fueled a downward spiral: I don’t know what to do with these files. I’ll deal with it later. The same goes for these files. I’ll just add them to the pile. Now the pile is way too big for me to manage. I don’t know what to do with these files. I’ll deal with it later . . .
Maybe the trick for those of us living in the era of life hacks and wikis is to find a way to turn the old model on its head and shake the useful loose change out of its pockets, to improvise new and better ways of managing files for our wired world. Welcome to the world of PaperJamming.
PaperJamming is all about finding ways to integrate file management into your personal business workflow. It’s about recognizing that what happens to your files is as important as how and why you use them.
Before I go into detail about the approach, a key thing to keep in mind is that PaperJamming is based on sound records management principles that have been developed and applied in the private, public, and government sectors. But with two key differences: One, it’s adaptable to your needs and practices. With the obvious exception of files that are required to meet certain basic legal, financial, and contractual obligations, how and when you decide to implement PaperJamming is up to you. Second, its underlying premise is that if you’re not having as much fun managing your files as you have using them, then you’re not doing something right. PaperJamming = personalized file management made fun.
Best of all, PaperJamming is compatible with just about every great organization technique out there. Are you implementing GTD? A Franklin Covey fan? Can’t live without your D*I*Y Planner? Do you file everything into 43 Folders? Think of PaperJamming as a freeware widget that runs on those operating systems.
Now to the heart of the PaperJamming philosophy. What you do with a file (and I’m using that term as a catch-all for anything that you create — e-mails, MS Office documents, photos, PDFs, blog entries, etc.) has to do with where the file falls on each of two scales:
- Type: Files have a function. They are classified as either Core (stuff you need to keep to meet legal, financial, and contractual requirements), Project (stuff you create for each discrete business activity), Administrative (stuff like forms, letterhead, and templates), or Reference (stuff you get from outside your organization).
- Stage: Files have a life cycle. You create them when they are needed and you discard them when they are no longer needed. Simple, right? The trick is understanding that needing a document is not always the same as using a document. Some files you need for a couple of days. Some you need for the lifetime of the business, even though you might only use them once.
That’s it. You decide everything else — where to store them, how to arrange them, what to name them, when to face them — yourself, in a way that works for you. As long as you know what Type and Stage a file falls under, you know what to do with it and when it’s supposed to be done. (Don’t worry, there’s plenty of guidance and suggestions to come! And hopefully, as people implement it they will add their own ideas too.)
Notice that PaperJamming doesn’t require you to worry about the format of the files. It’s not about what a file is. It’s all about what a file does. Format-based file management is so 20th century.
That’s PaperJamming in a nutshell. And it’s a pretty small nutshell too. That’s because PaperJamming is the pure distilled essence of records management. Made personal. Made fun.
There’s a lot to talk about. In future entries I’ll discuss how to apply PaperJamming for your work-related paper and electronic files, offer tips and techniques on how to store and find files, review useful software and meatspace products that you can adapt for PaperJamming, put up some forms and templates, and discuss how I implement PaperJamming myself.
PaperJamming — Just because files have a life of their own doesn’t mean that they have to run yours.