The Social Work Task Force’s workload survey, published last year, revealed that nearly two-thirds of social workers felt the time demands of paperwork and admin prevented them from properly helping service users.
Many social workers who were asked to identify a single factor that would improve their working lives said increased admin support.
But, as council budgets are slashed by 28% over four years, it seems unlikely that social workers will get their wish.
In the meantime, steps can be taken to reduce unnecessary admin and allow social workers to become more efficient at sorting paperwork.
1 Clear the decks
Chuck anything you no longer need. If there is a paper mountain, it is easy to add to. If your desk is relatively clear, however, it will encourage you to act on that latest document, not just add it to the pile.
2 File, file, file
If you get a good filing system in place, you will minimise the time you have to spend doing it. Spend 90 minutes this week purging your files. Subdivide bulging folders, separate active files from infrequently used ones and employ a classification system that can be interpreted by anyone. Make a commitment to repeat this process once a month.
3 Reduce the flow
Ask yourself how many times during the working day you say, “put a copy on my desk”. Getting to grips with unnecessary paperwork means spending time thinking about how you work and how much paperwork you are creating yourself. Learn not to accept anything that lands on your desk without checking that you are the best person to deal with it, why you should read it and what you are expected to do with it.
4 Effective paper handling
Ideally, each piece of paper that arrives on your desk should be handled only once. If you find you are picking up the same document over and again without acting on it, you need a new system. An effective way to work out how well you are coping with the in-tray is to draw a red dot on a document every time you pick it up to deal with it. If, in the course of a week, all your papers end up covered in red, you need a better system.
5 Plan your reading
Much of the paper that lands on your desk will need a closer look. Preview everything that comes your way immediately. Read it with these two options in mind: can it be filed or does it need immediate action? If it can be filed, great. If it needs action, write on the document, in a bold colour, what you need to do with it. Then plan the action into your day or week and, once you’ve carried it out, either file the document or, better still, recycle it.
Administration can be a source of enormous frustration, but improving how you manage admin tasks will give you more time to spend on what really matters: visiting service users.
Ruth Spellman is chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute. Find out more.
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This article is published in the 4 November 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “How to rid yourself of unnecessary paperwork”