cyndi seidler about paper flow

If you live in a big city, you’ve experienced traffic jams on a highway trying to get from one place to another. And often times cars that were once flowing along an open road will end up coming to a complete halt when a pile up happens in a space only meant for so many vehicles to travel on.

That’s the analogy I want to use with paper. When paper begins to pile up, it will create a traffic jam in your office space. See, paper that is flowing into the space and not flowing out of it becomes stuck. A stuck flow, we can say.

Paperwork that is overflowing is as frustrating as driving on a road that’s stacking up with cars and more cars. When the flow of paper keeps coming in without going somewhere, it creates a pile up and we’re engulfed with what becomes paper clutter.

This paper jam can halt our productivity because, once we’re inundated with paper, it gets to a point of overwhelm. That overwhelm then hampers our ability to function well in the space due to the liability it’s caused toward getting anything done.

The flow of paper

If we were to draw up a flow chart for paper coming into our office area, ideally here’s what it might look like:

  • It enters the office area and lands in its designated “In” basket / box.
  • It gets picked up and looked at.
  • It gets handled (taken care of) by either:
    • Put in filing tray basket to be filed
    • Put in an Action file like “Bills to pay” or active project file
    • Put in a pending tray basket to finish or follow up later
    • Put in a shredder or shredder basket or thrown away
  • It gets dealt with (again) a little later if it’s been placed in an Active, pending or active project file to complete its life cycle (i.e., paid bills, forms filled out completed, correspondence written, etc.)
  • It leaves the Action / active file spots by getting filed, shredded or thrown away.

Where it breaks down in this flow is where it needs to be fixed.

For example, if the Action papers end up all mushed together in a pile on the desktop instead of a designated place to hold them until action can be done with them, that part of the paper flow needs to be fixed.

Likewise, if completed papers sit on the desktop with actionable papers, that part of the paper flow needs to be fixed.

When papers are piling up in the “File” tray, they eventually need to be filed or they will also create a traffic jam in the flow of paper.

The ideal paperflow (above) is how to repair your stuck flow of paper. In essence, think of paper like cars – paper comes in and they have to go somewhere and then eventually leave.

It’s really as simple as that.

The tough part is dealing with getting your flow of paper moving again once it’s piled up. Just put on your thick skin and dive in.