The Art of Wastebasketry is an article I’ve had since the Dawn of Time but I have no idea where it came from or how I received it. There’s a bit of scratchy handwriting saying “1982 Training and Development Magazine, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD). If that’s true, how ironic I came onto an Australian article 20 years before I moved to Sydney in 2002.
That said, it’s a fossil of the days when we actually had paper on our desks, so I’ve tried to update it in the era of digital information (emails, for example).
Five Questions to Ask Yourself
Determine whether you want to keep a piece of paper – or a piece of information – by asking yourself these five questions:
1. Does this truly require any action?
Just because you receive information – even from your boss – doesn’t mean you need to keep it. If it does, put it in your diary or your time management to-do list. If it doesn’t require action, file or toss it right away.
2. Does this piece of paper/information exist elsewhere?
Is it on your computer? Is it bookmarked in a global search engine? Is the original still in the file? Is it necessary to keep a hard copy if it already exists on the computer?
3. Is it recent enough to be useful?
Does it make sense to keep an article with information that will be outdated before you need it? Instead, keep track of the source of the information so you can get the latest version.
4. Can I identify the specific circumstances when this information might be useful?
If you can, put it in the correct file, labeling it with the date. If you can’t (which means you can’t file it either), it’s unlkely you’ll remember you have it, let alone be able to find it later. The only other option would be to put key search words in the document title so you can retrieve it through a word search.
5. Are there any tax or legal implications?
Outdated information in your files can create unnecessary problems. Retention guidelines that are established and enforced create fewer legal problems than unidentified or unenforced ones.
If you answer no to all of the above but you’re still uncomfortable throwing away a particular piece of paper, ask one last question: What is the worst possible thing that could happen if I didn’t have this information? If you can live with the answer, toss it!
Any other suggestions or advice on how to manage files/information? Please add your comments below.