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A few simple systems can help reduce paperwork

Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 10:50
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I am the first to admit to having plenty of piles of paper on my desk, including articles I intend to read or share with employees, literature on products or services we're considering purchasing, marketing ideas or projects, items related to the various committees and organizations in which we participate and notes or handouts from seminars.

That said, I think we do a pretty good job of organizing the paperwork related to our collision repair jobs. We've made some efforts to go more "paperless," but still find ourselves with some paperwork.

Camille Eber

The key is making sure we know where it is and that we all have easy access to it when we need it.

Every current job we have, for example, has a job folder for all the paperwork, stored in alphabetic bins on a wall in the center of our front office. We use clear plastic folders, and the front page within each folder is our repair authorization form, which clearly includes most of the key information we need about the job and customer.

We try to store the paperwork in the same order within each folder, so it's faster to find what you're looking for.

However you organize your job folders, one thing is critical: Unless you have one job folder on your desk because you're doing something with it, it ought to be on the wall rack. If you or your estimators think it's faster just to have all the files on your desk, remember that you're not the only person who needs that file.

The time you save by having it on your desk is quickly lost when someone else has to look around to find it.

One method for organizing paperwork on your desk includes baskets or trays. These are for paperwork only as it moves, as a temporary holding spot before it moves into a folder or file.

A tray, for example, may hold estimates to file, estimates to convert to work orders, parts orders or return slips to be filed in job jackets, etc. But the key is that they are in the tray only temporarily, and that tray is emptied at least once a day.

Aside from the paper associated with repairing cars, it's easy to develop stacks and drawers full of paper you're sure you'll need or want to use "someday."

Although I've not fully implemented a system for handling these things myself, organizational experts offer a couple of suggestions for dealing effectively with this type of paper.

First, at least some of it can be divided into categories for filing under such broad headings as future purchases, marketing ideas, repair information, regulatory compliance information, etc.

Second, whether or not it gets filed or piled, use a bold marker to put the date on each item as you receive it or choose to save it. This will give you at least a rudimentary way in which to organize it, and it may help you find it if you have some idea of where it's likely to be chronologically in the "collection."

The date also is important because if you come across a dated item that's more than a year old, you'll know it's probably time to toss it. If you haven't needed it during the past year, you probably never will.

It's similar to the expiration date system on dairy products; it ensures the disposal of stale, outdated material.

You may not choose to dispose of everything after exactly a year – some items may warrant being kept longer, while others can be tossed after six months.

But particularly for those people with "pack rat" tendencies, a bold marking indicating how long that paper has sat without being looked at may make parting with it a little easier.

Even if your office doesn't go "paperless" anytime soon, the rewards for getting better control of paperwork include greater efficiency and a lot less stress.

Camille Eber is the second-generation owner of Roth & Miller Autobody in Portland, Oregon.

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