We don't need to keep everything forever. Even if we had the space to store everything we wouldn't: having out of date information could lead to mistakes being made and personal information should normally only be kept for a defined period of time. Whether it's paper, a Word document, an Excel Spreadsheet or an email, there are things we need to keep, and things we can throw away.
Here's a quick guide to help you decide whether you should keep it, or can bin it.
Is it on the retention schedule?
Check the relevant retention schedule for your department or section. If an item is on the schedule you probably need to keep it.
Is it the only copy?
Some of us still distrust electronic storage. You may keep something electronically and also in paper form. Either is fine, but it should be one or the other. This is very much related to the next question!
Are you the only person holding a copy?
For many documents, you are probably holding one of many copies. The master set will be held elsewhere and as long as you don’t need a copy for ongoing work you may be able to reply on the master set. So papers for all the main committees are held permanently by the committee secretary. You can find out who that is by looking at the committees web pages. If the document is from another organisation then check their website to see if it’s online there instead of holding your own copy.
Is it the final version of a document?
Documents often go through many drafts on their way to becoming a finished product. Once the final version has been approved – be that of minutes, a policy, a leaflet or a web page – you probably don’t need to keep the drafts, especially if you weren’t directly responsible for creating the item.
Is it the most recent version of a document?
This is subtly different from the previous question! Most documents should be updated from time to time. You may not need to keep old copies. Exceptions will be for policies that are still relevant for existing students, even though new students might be subject to an amended policy. You might need to keep a set of superseded items to refer back to, but you probably don’t need to keep multiple copies.
Did you print it from the internet?
It isn’t easy to read documents on the internet, but printing them off and filing them for reference is not a good idea. You will end up relying on your printed version and not knowing whether it has been updated or superseded. It’s best to bookmark the page online or add it to your favourites. If you want to print off some or all of it to read when it first comes out, that’s fine, but it’s best then to destroy the printed version and rely on the online version.
When did you last look at it?
If the item has been mouldering unnoticed in the back of a cupboard for some time it’s quite possible that you really never needed to store it in the first place (but do beware of items that we need to store but will be rarely used. Check your retention schedules before you reach for the recycle bin).