Is Your Office an Information Toxic Dump?

by Barbara Hemphill

Kathy is the office manager for a large corporation. The great news is that the company is growing and Kathy is looking for employees to handle all the new clients. The bad news is that she has no office space for these new employees to work in.

The office and storage areas are full of filing cabinets, and the desks are covered in stacks of paper. Kathy and her staff don’t even know what all that information is. Kathy can’t find space for new employees because she’s wasting it with files and paperwork.

Does your organization have offices, file cabinets, storage rooms and offsite facilities full of unidentified paper files and electronic documents? Are there files in your office that you’ve never opened and probably can’t identify the contents? Have you ever come across a piece of information you didn’t know whether to save or throw away, so you saved it, just in case? If so, you are working in an information toxic dump.

Research shows that 80 percent of the information kept in most offices is never used. Ironically, the more information that is kept, the less it is used because it’s too difficult for employees to find. Often employees can’t even find documents they created, let alone any information created by another employee, especially someone who is no longer with the organization.

Why Information Management Matters

Your ability to accomplish any task or goal relates directly to your ability to find the information you need when you need it.

Finding information, whether in paper or electronic format, is becoming an ever-increasing challenge. This inability to find information causes all sorts of problems: wasted time looking for information or recreating existing information, missed opportunities and increased stress, which results in increased health care costs.

Who is Responsible for the Problem and What Can be Done About It?

Blame for the information management debacle falls in several courts:

  • Management blames employees for the problem.
  • Employees blame management for the problem.hi
  • Organizations don’t have a user-friendly system.
  • Employees aren’t trained on the filing systems.
  • Management fails to look at records management as an ongoing activity.

To create and maintain an effective information management program, you must answer the following six questions:

  1. What information should we keep?
  2. In what form?
  3. For how long?
  4. Who is responsible for maintaining the information?
  5. Who needs access to the information?
  6. How can everyone who needs the information find it?

Answering those six questions requires the cooperation of everyone in the organization. It easily can take up to one year or even longer to answer them because accuracy requires addressing the questions over a one-year business cycle at a minimum.

Creating, Maintaining an Effective Information Management System

Use The Productive Environment Process to implement a new system. This can be applied to organize information in any organization.

  1. State your vision. If your information management program is successful, what will you be able to do that you can’t do now? What positive effect will an effective information management program have on the organization and your customers?
  2. Eliminate your obstacles. What prevents you from having a successful system?
  3. Commit your resources. How much time, money and human resource power are you willing to put into the project?
  4. Create your system. What tools (software, existing filing systems that work well, etc.) do you have that will be helpful? What other tools are available? What processes do you need to apply? A crucial component is applying The Art of Wastebasketry to eliminate unnecessary records.
  5. Maintain your success. What procedures do you need to develop and implement so the system you create will continue to work long after the systems’ creators are gone?

It would be wonderful if creating an information management system was simply a matter of buying a book or hiring an expert who told you exactly what to do.

A successful program, however, requires people, processes and technology. It must be supported by management, customized for the organization, and executed by everyone in the organization.

Designing, implementing and maintaining an effective information management program is the best place to start on the road to a productive environment. The result is an organized office in which everyone can find what he or she needs to accomplish work.

Your employees will have more space and stop wasting time and energy searching for paperwork.


Barbara Hemphill, CPO, is one of the country’s leading productivity experts. As a speaker and consultant on organizing, she helps people and organizations create and sustain productive environments. She is author of the best-selling “Taming the Paper Tiger” book series. For more information, visit

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