Getting rid of ROT

Getting rid of ROTIt’s easy for our electronic files and documents to pile up and grow out of control, especially with emails. Over time this accumulation of “stuff” impacts our daily work lives in ways both seen and unseen.

When disaster strikes, are you prepared, and willing, to recover all of your electronic information? Or would you rather focus your time, money and efforts on recovering the information that brings value to your organization?

Chances are, you would rather have what you need, when you need it. And chances are, you would rather only pay to maintain the information that brings value to your business and protects you from risk. Learn to identify the information and documents that benefit your company. Start by getting rid of the ROT (that is, redundant, outdated and trivial information).

  • Redundant = duplicate documents (identify one as the MASTER and destroy, or label, all others as a copy)
  • Outdated = time sensitive documents that lose their relevance once the deadline, or important date, has passed (e.g., invitations, daily reports, last season’s supplier catalogs, notifications, obsolete drafts)
  • Trivial = anything that can be destroyed without impacting your business (e.g., reference materials, newspapers, takeout menus, blank forms, and third-party publications)

Delving into the unknown accumulation of electronic backlog can seem daunting because of the volume and variety. You never know what you are going to find, or even if you will be able to open it. However, getting rid of ROT can be easy, once you know what to look for. In most cases, ROT can be destroyed without any negative consequences.

Here are several tips to help get you started.

1. Get key stakeholders on board. Engage with legal, risk and department leads to evaluate risk, establish policy and champion the project.

2. Approach information and document cleanups with a formalized policy (e.g., Records Retention Policy), process, training or guidelines in place. This ensures destructions/deletions happen in a controlled and standardized way. It eliminates the guesswork and helps to instill confidence in employees.

3. Define and identify examples of ROT (see above).

4. Designate time for employees to get rid of ROT (e.g., Friday afternoons for 30 minutes).  

5. Start with a targeted area (e.g., your Outlook mailbox, a particular folder).

Other areas to consider for deletion:

6. Unreadable file formats (e.g., software/hardware is obsolete). If the company no longer has the means to read the file formats, the information has lost its value. In the future, it is the company’s responsibility to produce the information in a readable format, should it be required.

7. A terminated employee’s Outlook mailboxes and files (set a time period, such as three months to one year). Designate someone to go through the emails and save the pertinent ones to a shared area.

8. Drafts and old versions, once a document has been finalized.

Lisa Ricciuti is a records expert, trainer, speaker and founder of Smart Info Management Services. Visit her blog at