Professors – Questions to Ask to Keep Paper from Becoming Clutter
Your clutter didn't arrive on the scene overnight and it won't disappear overnight! This article gives you some questions to ask yourself when you decide you need to declutter (and I'd suggest that the time might be now). You probably have some clutter lurking…and it's distracting you from your work. Let's just say I know this from experience.
- When was the last time I actually used this item? If the answer is "Not in this century," then it's time to let it go. Even if the time frame is MUCH shorter, it's probably time to let it go.
- Can I see myself specifically using or needing this item or information in the future? "Just in case," is not an acceptable answer.
- Did I request this information or this item? If the answer is "No," then get rid of it.
- Is this information current or is it so out-of-date that it's a liability? If you got your degree 10 years ago and you're saving articles from your dissertation research, it's time to put them in the recycling bin.
- Would it be difficult or expensive to replace or reacquire this information or this piece of paper? VERY rarely is the answer to this question "Yes." Let the paper go.
- Is this information available elsewhere? (Hint: The answer is almost always "yes" in this day and age.)
- Are there any tax or other legal reasons for keeping this item or paper? Know what your grant requirements are for keeping certain documents, for example.
- Does this paper have positive, negative, or neutral emotions attached to it? Why keep things that just irritate you? On the other hand, art work from your daughter might be just the thing to keep in your office…in limited quantities, however.
- What is the worst thing that could happen if I no longer had this piece of paper (notebook, folder, or other paper item)? This happens to be my favorite question–it lets me get rid of many, many pieces of paper).
- Do I have the space to store this paper? If your office is the size of a warehouse, then you can keep more paper than if you're in a cubicle. You probably don't have a warehouse-sized office, do you?
Ask yourself these questions as you go through your files (or your piles). Depending on the answers, you are likely to be able to get rid of 50 – 80% or more of what you've been keeping.
Note: Although these questions were primarily geared toward paper, essentially all of them also work with other types of clutter. So use them as needed! Feel the freedom!