Are you suffering from Too Much Information?

These days, many of us suffer from TMI — Too Much Information. It comes in via the mailbox, our computers, fax machines and Blackberries. And whatever business you’re in, you may feel overwhelmed by the task of managing it all. What’s worse, perhaps you may have difficulty locating vital information or business records when you need them.

Here’s a good diagnostic question when it comes to managing your hard-copy records: What was the longest period of time you’ve spent searching for a missing document or record? Two hours? Two days? Now, how much did that effort cost you in terms of lost time and productivity?

If the answer to this gives you pause, maybe it’s time to deal with your TMI problem. Here are five simple questions to begin helping you with just that.

1. What do you have? Understanding your hard-copy records is the first step in managing them well. (Managing electronic records is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, which we won’t consider here.)

Typically, businesses deal with customer records, accounting records, internal policies and procedures and PR and marketing materials. Now, how much of this material are you actually using? Typically, 50 to 70 percent of a company’s records are seven to 10 years old and are considered inactive — stuff you may never need to access again. It’s the records you deal with regularly —generally 30 to 50 percent of records, five years old or less —that you want to manage most efficiently. The rest can, and probably should, be identified, indexed appropriately and securely stored.

2. Where is it located? Are your records filling up filing cabinets, or stuffed into a closet? You may have an entire room dedicated to your records, or perhaps they’re hidden away in a basement or a garage. Who has access to that cabinet, closet, room or garage? Many companies have no access controls on their records whatsoever. Employees from other departments, companies with whom you share space, visitors and even burglars may have access to them. Prudent evaluation of records security, access and confidentiality issues fosters customer confidence and helps companies develop and maintain the very best kind of business environment for their employees.

3. How do you find it? Accessing your records efficiently is an important part of your organization’s infrastructure. Having a well-organized records management system will boost productivity and even morale — there are few things more frustrating than wasting time searching for something you know should be there but isn’t.

4. When and how do you get rid of it? Every company should have a formal policy for document retention and needs to follow it. You must be able to prove that you’ve acted prudently with regard to your records. That means knowing the regulations about record-keeping in your industry and your type of records.

Like maintaining records, disposing of them correctly is a regulatory compliance issue, and your company can be heavily fined if you don’t do it properly. For some records, using a strip-cut shredder isn’t enough, since a determined data thief could put those strips back together again. A cross-cut or confetti shredder is the minimum for secure shredding.

If you hire an outside disposal company, it must be certified by the National Association for Information Destruction. Ideally, the company should recycle paper records back to pulp and be able to track that pulp all the way to its final destination.

5. What’s it costing you? Do you know how much you’re spending on managing your records — or not managing them, as the case may be? That cost includes the cost of storage space, the time spent looking for lost documents, lost productivity from employees dealing with an inefficient records system, the cost of any compliance fines and time spent preparing for audits.

When it comes to efficient records management, no business is too small. In fact, the benefits of starting small are enormous. It’s much easier to break bad habits at the beginning, rather than after they have become entrenched. The important thing is to act now, when you can begin managing your records in a relaxed, controlled fashion.

The earlier you begin treatment for TMI, the healthier your business will be. You should do what you do best and let your records management company handle the rest.

<font size=1>Andrew Locke, senior vice president of sales for Morgan Records Management LLC, which operates record storage facilities in Manchester and Salem, can be reached at 603-509-3986, ext. 11, or</font size>