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Want to keep your office lean and green?  Or do you just want to see the top of your desk again?  Get in the habit of using and keeping as little paper as possible in your office by following these 10 simple tips:

1.  Think twice before you print anything from your computer.  Better to create a PDF document to file on your computer where space is endless than a paper document you have to file in the limited space in your cabinet or desktop.

2.  If you do have to print something out, print on both sides of the paper.

3.  When you are done with the paper, shred it (if it contains confidential information) or recycle it.  Think twice before hanging on to it for future reference someday.  Keep a virtual copy in your computer filing system if you must hang on to it.

4.  Use the Internet as your filing cabinet for reference materials.  Bookmark all that interesting stuff you find or that finds you.  You don’t really need it on paper because it’s out there, waiting for your attention someday.  If it’s really critical reference information, see tip #1 about filing PDF documents on your computer because links are dynamic and content does change.

5.  Evaluate your paper clutter.  Do you need the whole paper or just the information from the paper?  Information belongs in your databases where you can search and find it as needed.  Store contact information in your database and events in your calendar.

6. Do your banking and pay bills online.  This will cut down considerably on the amount of paper mailed to you each month.  Be sure to download and file your statements as PDF documents now so that your bank isn’t tempted to charge you for it later.

7.  Scan receipts and other paper that you have to keep.  Your flatbed scanner on your all-in-one printer could do but the time it takes will discourage this habit.  A “Neat Receipts” scanner ( works quickly and is available for the Mac and PC.

8. You’ll have to use smart file names in order to find the documents fairly easily again.  One great idea is to prefix the filename with 4-digits for year, followed by 2 for month and 2 for date (2009_03_06filename…) so that the computer will sort the files chronologically.

9.  Back up your digital files regularly.  I’m sure you back up daily online and to an external hard drive, right?  If you are really going to really on your computer for e-filing, you need to make the system redundant.  Saving your digital files to a CD often works too.  Best practice would be to store those CDs in a safe deposit box, away from your computer so if disaster strikes…

10.  All that room left in your filing cabinet!  What should you keep in there?  Signed original documents such as birth and marriage certificates, contracts, deeds, etc.  If it’s really important, keep a copy in your file drawer and the original in a safe deposit box.    What else is there?  The stuff you need and want to keep forever like the artwork on your refrigerator door.  Tax returns from before the time you e-filed.  That lottery ticket that just might win.


It’s a fun exercise to look back every now and then and marvel at how far we’ve come.  Why not put together a technology timeline for yourself and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same?  What dates you and what have you updated?  Here’s what I remember:

Grade school in the 1970s: Listening to 8-track tapes, of John Denver and Ray Conniff and the singers (hey, my parents were buying the music then).  I learned to type on an electric typewriter, white-out and all.  I had a cassette tape recorder and would tape songs like Hot Child in the City and Carwash from the radio.  I did have a record player but only two rock albums from K-tel to listen to and some 45s including Muskrat Love by the Captain and Tennille.  We could watch movies on Betamax videocasettes.

High school in the early 80s:  My parents bought an Apple IIe with the big floppy disks and a dot matrix printer so I could type and revise papers for school.  I heard about MTV and the walkman but would not personally experience either until college.  My music collection consisted of one cassette tape of Styx’ Paradise Theater, and two LPs of Cheap Trick, At Budokan and Dream Police.  I may have also had something by the Police but that’s all I’m willing to remember.  We switched from beta to VHS videotapes.

College in the mid-80s: I wrote papers on my electric typewriter in my dorm room my freshman year.  By sophomore year, I was using a Macintosh in the computer lab.  We’d store data on a 3.5-inch floppy disk and send our papers to be batch printed in a print queue within 24 hours.  Still no Internet for us.  But at least I could watch MTV in the dorm lobby and had my own walkman.  During a Junior Year Abroad at the University of Essex in England, I took a computer programming class without any actual computers!

Temping in the late 80s: After I graduated I moved to Chicago and worked for New Office Temps while looking for my dream job in publishing.  I would train on WordPerfect at headquarters and fill in for secretaries at Amoco and advertising agencies.  Computers weren’t quite universal in the workplace and sometimes I would have to tangle with a hybrid typewriter/computer on the job.  Eventually I settled at a position for Yearbook Medical Publishers where everyone had a Wang computer.  Just by sheer curiosity, I became the department go-to person and trainer on the system.  Still no Internet or email.  I bought my brother’s old stereo system and could now listen to CDs.  By this time I was listening to what we called alternative rock after happy experiences with REM, U-2, the Talking Heads, Squeeze and the Violent Femmes in college.

More temping and investigating claims in the early 90s: After I moved to San Francisco, I was looking for a job again until I could go back to school to get a teaching credential.  I did it all: transcribing reports from a tape, using a dictaphone to write my own reports all the while protesting that if they’d just give me a PC, I could type the report faster myself at a stint at Norcal Mutual Medical Insurance.  I put myself through school while working for start-ups in digital imaging and consulting doing back-ups and bookkeeping in Managing Your Money among other administrative tasks.

Teaching in the 90s:  I bought my very first personal computer, a primitive Apple laptop with 4K of memory, I think.  Later I bought a 14K modem so I could surf the Internet and use my American Online email account.  As the journalism advisor, I taught students how to use desktop publishing programs, Quark and Desktop Publisher, and even learned html at a workshop so I could put the paper online.  We worked through a succession of Apple computer generations ending with iMacs in the student computer lab.  I still had old Apple Macintoshes in my classroom and just after I left the school in 2000, every classroom was finally wired for Internet access.

Back to school, 2000-2005: I started with a job in the computer lab and improved my Photoshop skills and learned how to make digital videos with Final Cut Pro.  I ended up in an MFA program with a job as the program assistant, working on campus as needed but mostly from my home office thanks to email and the Internet on an Apple G3 and speedy DSL connection.  And I finally got a cell phone and a personal CD player so I could listen to my own music while painting in the studio.

An online office manager is born!  I upgraded to a mac mini with the Intel chip and now run a virtual PC and Mac OSX simultaneously.  I connect to the Internet via our cable connection and have an all-in-one printer with a scanner and fax.  My disc drive burns both CDs and DVDs.  Always curious and a quick-study, I am so pleased to be working with technology again and am just delving into the social networking sites.  Of course, our music is all digital now and we store data on thumb drives.  We watch movies on DVDs and watch videos clips on the computer.  My husband has an iPhone and I’m thinking about it just because it’s so cool.

I wonder what’s next?