By Clare Kumar
For incoming information that makes it past “delete”, systems are required to hold our active or “do” items and those we designate for reference. Filing systems are the most commonly used but unless set up effectively can quickly become cumbersome space hogs full of papers that are never referred to.
Follow these 6 tips to turn an ineffective filing system into an easy-to-use ‘finding’ system.
1. Create a simple filing hierarchy to store like items together
Rather than filling in categories labeled from A-Z, create categories based on the type of information you need to find together. Create subcategories as required. This will make it faster to find files and eliminate some of the guesswork if you forget exactly what you named the file.
Consider, for example, vehicle records you keep as part of your expenses. If you use an A-Z system, you might choose to file information related to the car under automobile, car, vehicle, or by the brand of car. Instead, create a category or folder called ‘Expenses’ and include the car file within in to make it easier to find.
Within each category, store files alphabetically or chronologically depending upon how you need to find them.
2. Use the same hierarchy for paper and computer files
Mirror the system in both paper and electronic environments so you don’t lose time adjusting between the two.
3. Develop a consistent naming methodology
It is important to be judicious and consistent when naming files and folders. If chronology is important, consider using the date in the beginning of the file name for computer files. Use the yyyy_mm_dd format and sort by date to have them appear in order.
Take time to include information needed to identify the file in the file name. This is especially important if you have multiple files with similar names.
4. Be selective about what you keep
The more files you keep, the more storage space they take up and the more energy is required to maintain and sort through them. If you’re not required to keep iterative work, delete draft versions and keep only the final product. Once per quarter edit the contents of your filing system and remove unneeded documents.
5. Keep active files easy to reach
Make sure your active folders are easy to access. You may choose to use desktop file holders to keep active paper files tidy, insight, and therefore top of mind.
Temporarily storing often-used folders on the computer desktop or at the top of the hierarchy can make them quicker to access.
Be sure to transfer active files and folders to their long-term home once a task or project is completed.
6. Make the physical filing system easy to use
Naming computer files is part of the saving process. When saving paper documents however you need to have a physical folder handy and a way to label it. Keep filing supplies well-stocked and at the ready so papers can be filed without delay.
If you are using file folders, use a label maker and sturdy hanging file folder labels for clear definition and easy recognition of major categories. For individual files, print clearly using a dark marker on a white label to make the title stand out, especially on coloured folders. If you use binders, make sure of the label holder on the spine to label the binder and indexes inside to keep your files sorted.
Coming up next in the series: Information Management Strategies – Ready Reference Material
ACCO BRANDS CANADA is proud to sponsor this 10 week series on organizing your workspace leading up to ORGANIZE YOUR DESK DAY on October 21, 2010. Get the tools you need to get organized from world-class brands such as Swingline, Quartet, Day-Timer, GBC, Kensington, and Wilson Jones. Clare Kumar, founder and Chief Organizer at Streamlife, an organizing company, will take you on a practical and inspiring journey from chaos and clutter to productivity and peace of mind.