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Cutting down on paperwork

April 20, 2015

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology


A regular viewer of this blog writes me: “ I’m looking for ideas for how to avoid being buried in administrative tasks.”

Join the club.

My workload has increased substantially in the past five years as almost all of the administrative tasks have migrated online. I routinely use five different Internet portals each day. One stores files securely, another provides access to personnel, another to grants, yet another to benefactor data, and still others to enrollment, scheduling, travel requests, vacation, reimbursements, budget, etc.

And then there is email and, occasionally, FAX via our “smart” photocopying machine.

You’d expect this if you worked at Iowa State whose official name includes the suffix “Science and Technology.” We invented the computer (and encoded the FAX, now that I think of it).

The worst thing about paperless tasks is the interruption. Staff, faculty, students, alumni, merchants, vendors still show up in person, pulling me (thankfully at times) away from the computer.

Organization is the only way to avoid being buried. You not only have to organize your file system so that folders are correctly labeled alphabetically on your desktop (not lumped under subfolders that you cannot remember); you also have to organize your desk.

Here’s a photo of mine.

Bugeja Desk

The green file folders on my wooden desk mirror the online ones on my desktop. The paper folders don’t have all the same files, only the most important ones—printouts that I can access physically rather than digitally and take to a meeting. You’ll also notice in the above photo paper files on my desk. These are tasks that must get done within hours or days. Finally you’ll see a yellow sticker with a list alerting me to what must be done in what order before I can leave the office.

In a normal 10-hour day, I am on the computer for five hours and reading files on my desk less than one. (Other hours are devoted to meetings and office visits.) But I know where each file is on my desktop, on the web and on my desk. That cuts down time looking for data or hunting for that important memo about new P&T procedures that the Provost sent on email three months ago and you forgot to download and print out. TIP: Download and print out all important email attachments as soon as read the message. File accordingly.

Just as in effective teaching, effective administration entails fastidious attention to detail and organization. You still might be buried in paperless work, but you won’t waste time locating it.

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