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I once worked with a client that kept mounds of magazines and newspapers in his office. Successful, smart, and always eager to learn more, he’d hang on to literature he wanted to read. He subscribed to several excellent business journals, trade magazines and had a subscription to his local paper. The thing was, he didn’t have the time to get to everything he wanted to read, and yet he hated to pass up the opportunity to read it – someday. So, his TBR (to be read) pile kept growing and growing. It sat on his desk and bookshelves like a bad omen of unfinished business or one of missed opportunity. What started out as a great way to grow and improve had turned into a bad mindset trigger. What he needed was a strategy for managing his intended reading pile.

A Flavor of FOMO and Paper Clutter

If you aren’t close to someone born after, say, 1990, you may not be familiar with the term FOMO. Let me bring you up to speed compliments of my twenty-something-year-old daughter. FOMO = Fear of Missing Out. Treading the line of what is in scope for this piece, I’ll dive a bit deeper. Social media has been deemed one common driver of FOMO. You see something online about a party you didn’t attend and you feel like you’ve missed out. For my client, the glossy publication cover teasers and front-page newspaper headlines gave him a flavor of FOMO. He’d think to himself, that article looks interesting or I bet I’d benefit from that story, but without the time to consume the piece, he’d slide the magazine or newspaper on to his ever-growing stack of TBR….where it would sit for months.

When this client did have time to read, he’d sometimes come across something he really liked and wanted to hang onto for possible future reference. He truly felt angst when he thought about tossing the publication so it remained in his intended reading pile. Maybe it goes too far to call this behavior hoarding but the end result truly was, for him, unmanageable piles of magazines and papers. It amounted to a lot of clutter and clutter causes stress. What started as an admirable quest for greater knowledge turned into a frustrating, stressful situation. He’d see the stack and worry about what he hadn’t read (that FOMO) and he acknowledged that, even if he wanted to find that one awesome article he had read a while back, he’d spend forever trying to find it.

TBR? Be Honest With Thy Self

First things first, my client had to get real with his expectations. Would he ever go back to a six-month-old business journal he hadn’t read? Was old news really “news”? My advice to him was to set criteria for holding onto his newspapers and journals, and then stick to routine culling. He spent some time reflecting on how old was too old to be worth his while. Monthly journals, he decided, should go after three months. I encouraged him to unsubscribe to publications he had not read in over 6 months. Newspapers were deemed old after a week. I encouraged him to unsubscribe to publications he had not read in over 6 months. If you do this, only you can decide what works, but my advice is to be really honest and realistic with yourself. Then, once you set up your system of tossing, stick to it. Reward yourself with the reminder that what you are doing is being proactive with your information management and productive with your time management. Generally, if you aren’t able to read something timely it is because your time was better spent elsewhere. And, reading old news is generally not a good use of time.

Pluck Out What You Love and Store it Digitally

Like my client, you may come across an article in a publication that you really love. You may anticipate you’ll want to refer back to the piece. This fits into a productive information management system. My recommendation is to tear out the article, scan it and then file it digitally. If it speaks to you, scan the cover of the publication as well. With modern advancements like Optical Character Recognition (OCR), the text of most scanned documents can be searched. So, even if you don’t remember the exact title of the piece you scanned, you can search for keywords to locate what you are looking for.

Digital Scanner Options

Scanner technology has come a long way. There are many quality affordable scanners on the market today. My favorite is the one I have sitting on my desk as I type – the Fujitsu Scan Snap S1300i. It scans 12 double-sided pages per minute. Scanned documents can be converted to PDF, searchable PDF, JPEG, Word (editable), and Excel (editable). Best of all, this scanner is about the size of a three-hole punch so it won’t take up valuable desk real estate.

If you don’t anticipate a lot of scanning, you likely don’t need to invest in a scanner. Look no further than your cellphone. There are free, easy-to-use scanning apps on both the android and IOS platforms. I recommend Evernote Scannable on the iPhone. Camscanner is another quality scanner app and it is downloadable on android and iPhone devices.

Digital Filing – Set Up Folders That Make Sense For You

I’m a huge fan of going paperless. Success with a paperless office begins with a thoughtful digital filing system. Just as you wouldn’t shove papers randomly into a filing cabinet, you don’t want to put digital files into your computer in a haphazard fashion. Think about how you will most likely use the information you are saving. How would you logically link it to other categories? Maybe it will make sense to have a folder for scanned articles generally, or one for each publication title, or maybe you’ll decide to file the article under an existing topical file category, i.e. Time Management or Motivational. Find the system that works best for you to retrieve the information you have chosen to hang onto.

Reading Time Should be Enjoyable

Many of us have subscriptions to great publications with quality information. Most of us will run into times when we won’t be able to peruse the latest copy. Usually it’s because we have something more productive or pressing to accomplish – and this is OK. Kill the FOMO. You are engaging in effective time management. You’re still going to be harvesting some great info from what you do read, some of which may be worth holding onto. So, find a scanning solution that works for you to digitally store what you might want to revisit in the future. Purposefully processing your TBR pile is smart information management. And, with a system in place you’ll find reading time that much more effective and enjoyable.

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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