Bill Cottringer

“Keeping up with the information overload is like trying to sip water from a fire hose.”
~ Anonymous.

So you think you are overloaded with paperwork at your job? My very first professional job was a counselor at a maximum security prison in Kentucky back in 1970. I had a caseload of about 1500 inmates, always trying to keep up (but not succeeding very well) with never-ending daily, weekly and monthly reports about all sorts of things from visitation and writing permission lists to good-time reviews to pre-parole reports.

Nothing in my education or training could have adequately prepared me for dealing with the unbelievable volume of paperwork required in this job. And remember, no computers back then. Everything was written long hand and/or transcribed and then typewritten and edited.

The first couple of months I spent most of my time trying to stay even with the workload—not having any time left over for the paperwork—and complaining about it nonstop. After awhile, an older and wiser counselor pulled me aside and advised me that if I would save some of the time I wasted complaining about the paperwork, I would have more time to do it. So I got busy being clever to get this ornery mountain of paperwork overload done quicker and less painfully with easy checklists I could fill out with both hands and combining three different forms into one. Soon I was filling all the filing cabinets and they were asking me to slow down.

Over the years my paperwork requirements haven’t gotten any easier, but there are some things that I’ve learned to keep the overload from getting the best of me. Here are seven practical tips to unload some of the overload and keep the paperwork monster from getting the best of you:

1. Obviously computers help, but if you are not careful they can also create more work and become the tail that is wagging the dog all over the place. Use computer technology to simplify the paperwork overload, not make it more complicated.

2. Realize that multi-tasking is a myth. When trying to multi-task with paperwork, all you end up doing is five things poorly. Take difficult, high priority paperwork to a quiet spot where you can give it your full focus without annoying disruptions or worse yet, other people’s priorities. Finish one thing at a time according to a cost-effective priority list. And consider always asking two good questions: (a) What is the cost of doing this? (b) What will it yield?

3. Agree or not, the reality is that mountains of paperwork only get higher with complaining, worrying, frustration, stress and other negative thoughts and feelings. As difficult as it may be, weigh the value of approaching the mountain before you with a more positive attitude and then watch it get smaller. Such a positive, can-do approach has a way of expanding time and freeing energy to get more done in less time.

4. Slow down and do it right the first time; it takes too much time to go back and correct hurried mistakes. Remember that slow and steady gets more done than inconsistent hyper-drive rushing around in spurts. The object is to use time smartly as an ally rather than trying to attack it as an enemy to control.

5. Regularly schedule significant chunks of down-time when you can devote needed attention to the mundane, tedious boring paperwork that has a way of piling up on your desk. Otherwise it won’t ever get done just looking at it wishing it would go away.

6. Continually evaluate your actual productivity on priorities, openly and honestly. These things can easily get outvoted by other people’s priorities if you let them. The one standard against which to judge the priority of doing anything is, How much value to the company will I contribute by completing this?

7. Most paperwork involves unnecessary repetition or redundancy that can and should be eliminated. Look for waste and duplication and merge the double work into one piece of paper. Aim to get twice as much done in half the time. Personally I view the whole mountain of information overload as a very serious problem that is begging for us to solve and simplify.

Try a few of these suggestions and watch yourself get twice as much done in half the time.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA and also a business and personal success coach, sport psychologist, photographer and writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, The Prosperity Zone, Getting More By Doing Less, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, “P” Point Management, Reality Repair Rx, and Reality Repair coming from Global Vision Press. He can be contacted with comments or questions at 425 454-5011 or