10 Ways to Improve Your Filing System

10 Ways to Improve Your Filing System

Kanarek, Lisa

Technology has changed the way we work; but no matter how much technology advances, paper is here to stay. A few simple ways to deal with paper are to forward it, scan it, or toss it. The more difficult way to deal with paper is to file it. Setting up a filing system is useful, and ultimately, it should save you time. But, your filing system is only useful if when you complete it, you can put your hands on the papers you need within minutes. That requires planning and maintenance. Here are 10 ways to improve your filing system.

* File papers in hanging folders and interior (manila) folders. Label the hanging folders with main categories, and place the manila folders broken down into subcategories inside them. Stagger the hanging folder tabs to make them easier to see, and do the same with the interior folders.

* Limit the number of interior folders within each hanging folder to four or five. The amount of paper within each folder will determine the number of interior folders you should use. If an interior folder has more than 30 pieces of paper in it, divide the papers into separate interior folders and place them inside a hanging folder.

* As you file papers, place the latest ones in the front portion of an interior folder, rather than the back. Each time you use the folder, it will be easy to see which papers are older and could be tossed. Before you file, make sure you remove any paperclips. Paperclips can inadvertently grab other papers in a file. Staples are a better option.

* Use colored hanging file folder tabs to differentiate between various file categories. If you’re truly motivated by color, use multicolored hanging and interior folders. You could use green for financial records, red for hot projects, and blue for marketing, for example.

* Third-cut interior folders with tabs on the left, middle, and right, alternating within each hanging folder will make the tabs easier to see. Straight-cut tabs are difficult to see within a hanging folder.

* File your papers alphabetically (ideal for client records), by category, or by number (years, invoice numbers, etc.). Then alphabetize the hanging folders within each category. If you want to keep your filing system simple, keep the categories of files you use often in the front sections of your file cabinet drawers. (This is common sense, yet often overlooked.)

* Leave at least an inch in front of the first hanging folder to make it easier to move files back and forth within a file cabinet or drawer. The extra room will make it easier to remove and replace files. Having extra file space will be easier if you look through your files at least twice each year and purge the papers that you know you will never refer to again.

* A good alternative to a hanging and interior filing system is to use hanging notebooks. Hanging notebooks have end tabs that fit on the interior frame of a file cabinet. Some notebooks include a feature that allows you to push the tabs in to convert them to regular notebooks.

* Keep current files (those you use at least weekly), reference files (those you need to access occasionally), and historical files (tax-related or legal documents to which you rarely refer) separate. Current files should be located inside or next to your desk, whereas reference files can be stored nearby in a file cabinet. Store your historical files in sturdy boxes labeled by year and contents, and store them in a dry place.

* Label your file cabinet drawers with key words to describe each drawer’s contents. Also, label your file folders by hand or with an electronic labeler. The labels don’t have to be perfect, just legible.

Technology has made it easier to store information electronically, yet it hasn’t significantly reduced the amount of paper we handle regularly. Setting up an efficient filing system, purging old papers, and knowing where your papers are stored will make finding the information you need when you need it easier.

Home office expert Lisa Kanarek is the author of Home Office Solutions, Organizing Your Home Business, and Everything’s Organized. She’s the founder of HomeOfficeLife.com, a firm that advises corporations and individuals on all aspects of working from home, including physical setup, technology, productivity, and transitioning from a corporate office to a home office.

Copyright Quality Publishing, Inc. Mar/Apr 2006

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