“I can’t stand this proliferation of paperwork. It’s useless to fight the forms. You’ve got to kill the people producing them.”
Director, Ivano Machine Building Works, Moscow
There’s a story of a president of a multinational corporation who sent a memo to all staff saying: “For the next month I want to see a copy of every memo, letter and report produced by any staff member.” The results: the paperwork fell by 40 per cent and productivity rose dramatically.
We’re all bombarded with too much paper. Some we want to receive because it’s interesting; some we have to read because it’s part of our job. But as much as half wastes our time and should never clutter up our in-trays or our minds. Here are some ideas to cut the quantity and cost of paperwork.
1. Don’t write without good reason.
2. Talk, either in person or by telephone, rather than write.
3. Use plain English.
4. Cross your name off circulation lists.
5. Never write memos to a wide circulation.
6. Send unnecessary paperwork back to the writer.
7. Fire the company lawyers – only hire them again when they can write in plain English.
Don’t write without good reason.
Unless you have something worthwhile to say, don’t start writing.
Talk, either in person or by telephone, rather than write.
Writing is often the least efficient and most expensive form of communicating. Studies put the minimum cost of writing a one-page memo at?, rising to as high as?0 if produced by the managing director. Whenever you can speak to the person instead of writing, do so.
Use plain English.
Cutting passive verbs, redundant phrases and simplifying your writing saves the reader’s time. Using plain English writing and editing techniques often cuts one-third of the words in standard documents.
Cross your name off circulation lists.
You’ll find much of the paperwork cluttering your desk comes to you because you’re on someone’s circulation list. Take your name off the circulation list and you’ll see much of your paperwork disappear. Similarly, if you don’t want junk mail, don’t give out your name and address to other organisations.
Never write memos to a wide audience.
Readers claim to throw in the bin unread or only half-read about 90 per cent of memos to all staff. Narrow down your audience for memos until only those who need to know read them. Some organisations have gone as far as banning memos and found productivity increased.
Send unnecessary paperwork back to the writer.
How else will the writer ever learn? One British government department issues staff with a rubber stamp saying “Why me?” If you get unnecessary paperwork, send it back to the writer.
Fire the company lawyers – only hire them again when they can write in plain English.
My friend rewrote the office manual in plain English, cutting the 140 pages down to 80 pages and sent it to other departments for comment. Everyone approved the new draft, except the legal department. They rewrote it and it became 206 pages long. This would not have been so annoying if the legal department hadn’t already approved the 140-page original the previous year.