Stop Shuffling Paper (virtual and real)

Ed BurghardWe are on information overload. I don’t know about you, but I am never caught up on either my email or snail mail. Some days I feel completely buried, and I end up investing a few hours cleaning out everything just to get the weight off my shoulders.

Get Control

One key to increasing your personal productivity is to get control over your real and virtual paper flow. Tale a quick minute and check your email in box. If you have over 6 emails that have not been read, or conversely over 6 emails that have been read but are still sitting in your in box, you could benefit from the following tips.

I am going to be totally transparent and confess this is one of those “do as I say and not as I do” posts. I personally struggle with this challenge on a daily basis.

Screening Tips

Use your trash. Are you really going to need that advertisement or joke that somebody sent you? Some things should just be sent immediately to trash since they offer nothing of real value.

Prioritize your correspondence. On my Mac, I can use color-coded flags and I can designate people as important. This allows me to quickly get to the most important correspondence first without being distracted by “nice to know”, but not “need to know” information.

Create an Action folder. Put things that need your attention in this folder and make a habit of checking it daily.

Create and use a “suspense” or “tickle” file. Things that need your follow-up should be put in this file. This will help ensure you do not lose track of your projects.

Processing Tips

Try to handle correspondence once if at all possible. Minimally do something with it. Trash it, file it, respond to it, or whatever makes sense. Just don’t leave it in your in box.

Highlight content when possible. This helps eliminate the need to read a document in full again. Put notes in the margin if it is possible to remind yourself why you thought it was important.

Force yourself to keep your responses to 2 paragraphs if possible.

Don’t get caught in never ending email loops. If you can resolve a problem by picking up the phone and talking to the person, do it. There is nothing gained by encouraging ping-pong email dialogues.

Create a routine. Clear your in box first thing in the morning, just after lunch and just before you call it a day. Don’t keep going back and forth from your work to your correspondence. This is distracting and will result in an average -40% reduction in personal productivity.


In my experience, this is one area that separates the great and average performers. Great performers do not let correspondence limit their ability to achieve. They have established a process for avoiding shuffling and they stay in control of their time. I have also found it to be one of the more challenging aspects of my career.

What is your experience? Have you developed any practices that allow you to keep on top of your correspondence? How do you make certain emails, phone calls, and snail mail do not overwhelm your day?

Please share by leaving a comment.

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