During the course of our busy workday, we tend to leave paper files and mail untouched to attend to other pertinent matters. But then that day turns into a few days, and then into weeks. Before you realize it, we are surrounded by a mountain of clutter.
For some businesses, a cluttered office is no big deal. In fact, many people take pride in their messy desks – you’ve heard the phrase “a cluttered desk is the sign of genius”. But in a medical practice, an unkempt office can be portrayed negatively by your patients and prospective patients.
“A cluttered office can scare away patients,” says Stacey Anderson, a professional organizer with Organized Innovations LLC, in Bellevue, Wash. “Your patients may think your office is dirty, unprofessional, and some may wonder whether they can even trust you to not lose their lab work or other important information.”
Purge your files
Anderson believes that medical offices are often cluttered because physicians and their staff are so busy seeing patients that they don’t have time to organize.
“What they often really need is to purge,” she says. “I recommend setting up quarterly or semi-annual purge days for the office. This approach has proved to be very successful in a medical office setting.”
Anderson rattles off these tips for your day of purging:
• Make it an office wide event
• Block time in the schedule for everyone to participate
• Assign areas of the clinic to different staff to clean out/organize
• Set guidelines for what to toss, keep, repair or donate
• Have a shredding company set up to handle the discarded paper
• Have a document storage company set up to take old records off site (see MOT story on Evaluating on an Offsite Storage Provider)
“Also, have an agenda for the day where everyone is assigned specific tasks, areas to organize and guidelines for what to keep,” Anderson suggests.
For a simpler approach, consider using the wall space in the office. Either build shelves and create binders to hold the necessary paperwork or use wall-mounted file organizers to remove items off the desk.
“It is easier to retrieve items that are vertical, rather than piles,” Anderson contends. “Use vertical paper sorters on the desk. Finally, determine whose responsibility it is to keep certain paperwork. In medical offices there is a fear of getting rid of something in case it will be needed in the future. Appoint certain people to be responsible for specific paperwork, allowing anyone else to discard their copy.”
Follow the D.A.R.T.™System
“Paper can be overwhelming, but it does not have to be,” says Stephanie Calahan of Calahan Solutions Inc. in Bloomington, Ill. “Clutter represents decisions that you are putting off. Part of the reason that we do that is because when we pick up a piece of paper, we try to make too many decisions at once. We give up, default to ‘keep it’ and make no decision.”
Calahan takes the purging process a step further and recommends a D.A.R.T. (Decision, Action, Reference, and Toss) system to make the de-cluttering process easier:
Decision: You have to make a decision about the items in the piles that you have.
Action: There are different types of action, but no system works unless you act.
Reference: We all have items that we keep for reference. There are specific tools that you use to keep those items where you can remember them.
Toss: Toss does not necessarily mean throw away. By this Calahan means recycle, shred or sell, or items do not belong in this room.
Here are some questions Calahan suggests that can ask yourself to make the decision process easier for you and your staff:
Does it require any action?
“If an item requires action such as a phone call to make, a report to write, a bill to pay, or a claim to file, then it is an act,” she says. “Keep everything that requires action in one location, so that when you have time, you will be able to go through and check the items off of the list.”
Are there tax or legal implications?
Some of that office clutter may include files of tax or legal importance. If so, place these in your Reference system. Be sure to talk to your legal counsel about the information you keep and how long you keep it. (See MOT story about Maximizing Tax Deductions)
“Each industry has different documents that should be retained,” Calahan explains. “There are also documents that should be destroyed after a specified amount of time to limit liability to the company.”
Is it recent enough to be useful?
Are your patient education files still current, or has the information changed? If you answer yes, put in your Reference system; if not toss it.
“Just like food has an expiration date, so do the things in your life,” says Calahan. “If you are keeping things that are no longer current, you are not allowing yourself the space for new and better things to start.”
Is it difficult to obtain again?
If there are items that are difficult to find or obtain again, such as legal documentation or incorporation papers, you may want to consider keeping the item in a container designated for that type of item. If not, toss it.
Can you identify specific use?
Some practices will keep items around only because they think they might need them someday. Calahan says that is fine if you have the space and you also know what you are going to do with the item. “If you are keeping something for the express purpose of keeping it, consider that item a little harder,” she says.
Finally, Calahan says to ask yourself, “What is the worst possible thing that could happen if you get rid of this?”
“This one is one of my favorite questions,” she says. “If you can ask yourself this question and find that you can live with the answer, then it can make it easier to let go.”