Is hoarding an office behavior that really needs to be corrected? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Is hoarding an office behavior that really needs to be corrected?

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Question: “People make little jokes about how much paper I keep on my desk, my stuffed file cabinets and the number of old emails I store in Outlook, going back years sometimes, and it was even brought up in my performance evaluation. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been saved because I still had an ‘ancient’ email for reference or a tiny scrap of paper with a bit of info on it that everyone else had forgotten. We’ve all been trained to get rid of this stuff and keep things tidy for the sake of… well, what?”  – Rod, State Comptroller’s Office

See comments below, and send your own question to Admin-Pro@nibm.net.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Marian December 12, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I totally understand the reason people hoard e-mails and old files. I do some of that myself. It is important to remember that most corporations have guidelines on how long documents should be retained. (Yes, e-mail can be considered a record.) You should check your company’s record retention manual or information management guidelines to make sure you are not violating any rules. Many of these e-mails and documents could be considered a liability and can be deposed in legal cases.

Another reason to avoid hoarding digital files and e-mail is IT storage costs. Your department is probably charged for the network space you use. I would suggest that you use SharePoint or some other type of database to create a reference list or subject file; then take key announcements or elements from the message and save them for future reference. You can also explore network share drives, using the cloud, or even an external hard drive – but again, make sure you are not out of compliance with any corporate informatino management guidelines.

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Rita December 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Rod, I’m also known as the person who “never throws anything away”. People used to tease me about it, but I’ve proved that “document, document, document” is very important. I’ve also convinced my supervisor (who does my evaluations) that this is a positive trait, rather than a problem I need to work on. I’ve saved our bacon more than once, and one time it amounted to a savings that ran into six figures. Don’t let anyone tell you that you won’t need something anymore – - you probably will ! ! Keep your desk and your work area neat and tidy (no messy piles), even if you have to file everything in your file cabinets. I’m holding on to documents from the late 1990s, and had to refer to one of them just last week.

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JoAnn Paules December 6, 2013 at 6:46 am

I am also a hoarder but I’ve modified my behavior a bit. Rather than keep pieces of paper, I keep electronic files whenever possible.

Scan in the documents you want to keep and give it a meaningful name. Unless you positively have a need for that piece of paper, a .pdf will serve the purpose just as well. Plus you can back up your files with a DVD. Takes up less room than paper and will be easier to find down the road.

As for the people who make fun of you. Remind them of that the next time they need you to pull their butt out of the fire.

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KR December 5, 2013 at 5:17 pm

You have to balance the time spent searching with the money saved by having the information. If it takes 2 hours to find info worth $25, you may have saved the day, but you lost money.

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SK December 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I keep EVerything. I call them my CMB files (Cover My Butt), both digitally and hard copy.
I agree there are some things I only keep for 5 years or 7 years, according to company policy, but I archive all email according to year/month, and this practice has saved me numerous times.
My desk is often cluttered–with work!–tablets full of Minutes notes to transcribe, letters to be mailed, pile of items to work on, binders of information for my job duties, even the phone message log. I’ve never had anyone tell me this is an eyesore. If they did, I would request a bigger desk and more file cabinets :)

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KJ December 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I can appreciate saving so much and finding it a lifesaver at times. However, I try to save as much as possible electronically on a 1TB external hard drive. It has taken SO much less time to find things by doing a search via my computer rather than pawing through file folders and archived boxes and getting paper cuts in the process! Even Outlook emails can be saved in this way in just about any version of Outlook using the Save As feature. I use this instead of keeping my emails in folders in Outlook which keeps my Outlook from getting too full. Another plus is that I don’t have to physically file anything in a folder or drawer which always seems to be the last thing I want to do. I was taught, the less time you spend “touching” a document, the more time you will have. Instead of printing out emails or files, just electronically save them. It’s been one of the things my co-workers and bosses have complimented me on the most…my organization skills. Best part is…no one can SEE my files or how much I’m saving. LOL!

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Cathy December 5, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Keeping e-mails indefinitely is up to you & what your computer or company server can handle. My boss had so many e-mails that it affected Outlook’s performance, so he had our IT guy make duplicate copies of e-mails older than 5 years on CDs. (There were thousands of them!) He still has easy access to them in case something comes up. That might be an option for you. As for paper . . . I can understand your company wanting it kept to a minimum for safety reasons. And, if you are in an open area where clients walking by can see your paper piles, I understand them wanting your area neatly organized & clean.

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Theresa Kasel December 5, 2013 at 4:27 pm

The problem isn’t that you keep the information as it’s obviously helped you with your job.

The problem is that you are using your desk as a storage space rather than organizing the information properly in file cabinets or some other organization system.

Come up with a system to store these types of documents. Have subject folders for projects. A folder for each month of the year for items that don’t have a specific project/subject. Everything you save from each month goes in that month’s folder. If you need to reference something, you most likely remember the time you were working on that (“We were working on that idea in October — let me check my October notes.”)

Plus, it will make it easier for you to actually find the information. If it takes you more than five minutes to dig through the piles of paperwork on your desk to find a piece of information that you wrote on a small scrap of paper, you’re wasting time looking for information.

Lastly, piles of paper on your desk in no way looks professional.

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mary December 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm

I keep files stored in My Documents in folders and have a folder for each year. That way I can find things without having to search through boxes of paper files. We use google mail and I store in folders there. The google search tool is wonderful for finding information.

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Dana December 5, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I too am a “hoarder” and I don’t see anything wrong with it as long as it doesn’t become a safety hazard. It seems every time I get rid of an old email or file that is when someone wants the information. I say keep what makes you comfortable but don’t infringe on other people’s areas and be sure you can move around safely.

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Michelle December 5, 2013 at 4:12 pm

It can definitely be helpful to have documents or emails from the past. I tend to scan everything in December so I can start with fresh paper files for the new year. I save important files for up to 5 years and the other files for 2 years. I think it’s also important to keep everything organized and stored properly if you are going to keep files/email for an extended time. If you can’t find the information you’re looking for then those piles of paperwork aren’t doing anyone any good.

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