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Paper Management 101

by Michele Novotni, Ph.D.

Papers, papers everywhere and never the one I need. Many adults with AD/HD or Learning Disabilities are drowning in a sea of paper. With each visit by the mailperson, the paper mountain grows. Our computers add to the mountain with the all-too-familiar "You’ve Got Mail."

In addition, forms, reports, and offers flood our offices and homes, not to mention the newspapers, magazines, and paperwork from our children’s schools. Many adults with LD, who have difficulties in reading, spelling, and grammar, often give up trying to stay on top of it all.

A number of my clients have told me that their piles of materials to sort through and read take over entire rooms. In addition to adding to a sense of failure, anxiety and/or depression, Learning Disabilities often create barriers to relationships--especially in that area of written communication. People expect us to be able to respond.

Staying on top of reading and paperwork, for adults with LD, requires inventive strategies. As a coach, I work with people to develop structures and strategies to support efficient communication. Consider the following:

  1. Recognize that paperwork is necessary in maintaining relationships, as paperwork is necessary to maintain jobs.
  2. Ask people to call and leave voice messages rather than send written materials if it is easier for you to process verbal communication.
  3. Consider hiring a personal assistant to read through your paperwork once a week for you. A reader can highlight the information that you are most interested in and which needs your response. College students are great at this task and will charge only about $10 an hour. In a few hours, you can whittle your paperwork down to a manageable amount.
  4. Check out the new technology that makes written communication easier. It is now possible to speak into a microphone and have your computer automatically type the words, using a program such as the new DragonSpeak. You can also organize your thoughts using mindmapping software, such as Inspiration, to provide needed structure.
  5. Check out the Kerzweil machine that actually reads papers for you. In the past these machines were used by individuals who were blind, but many with AD/HD and LD are now finding them very helpful. Many colleges have them in their libraries. They are available in a smaller size for home and office use.
  6. Keep a dictionary and calculator handy.
  7. E-mail management:
    • request that people write to you in “bullet” form
    • request that people highlight the section(s) they especially want you to read
    • ask people to mark e-mails that you need to read by putting your name in the To: line, and to put your name in the cc section if you are being mailed only for information purposes
    • ask not to be sent nonessential e-mails
    • always use spell check and grammar check, and review your e-mails to—catch errors

Any strategies and structures that help you get through the mountains of paperwork will help you develop and maintain relationships at home and in the office.

Michele Novotni, Ph.D., is a psychologist and coach in private practice in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited.

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