Organize Files in 5 Steps

Do you want to 5 steps to organize files and stay on top of paperwork? Are you tired of looking for files that you know you have? 

These steps to stay on top of your paperwork and organize your files involve:

  1. collecting all the paper from the different locations
  2. deciding what you need to keep and what you need to toss
  3. developing a system that reflects your main recurring activities and projects
  4. having a filing system that allows you to find information quickly
  5. keeping your system organized

Step 1: Get all of your paper together

Sometimes one is better than two when it comes to organizing files. It is better to have one central location for the files that you use often rather than have your files spread across your desk, in your drawers, and on top of bookcases.

One of the first things that I do as a time management coach in large organizations is have people organize their filing system. I get people to collect all the paper that is sitting on their desk, in their drawers, and other locations.

Step 2: What paper do you need to keep and what do you need to toss?

Did you know that time management statistics suggest that 80% of material that goes into filing cabinet is never used again. That means that on average, you are searching through 4 documents to get to the one you need.

Many of us are in the game of adding value to knowledge. To make the right decisions we need the right information under our noses in a timely manner. While you can't be sure what documents you may need again, it is important that you are able to access the 20% that you do need without being hampered by clutter.

So go through your documents and declutter. Ask yourself the following questions to organize files:

  • when was the last time I used it?
  • what is the worst that can happen if your throw this document away? If the worst that can happen is that it is available on the Internet/Intranet then consider binning it.

Step 3: Think about your active projects and file accordingly

What are your current activities and projects. These are the categories that determine your filing system. For example you may have categories that include clients, projects, administration, and staff.

When considering your categories, choose the broadest you can within reason. You don't want your files bursting at the seams after only two weeks nor do you want your files to be almost empty. Both limit the power of an effective filing system.

When organizing your files you will:

  1. need a filing cabinet or a drawer that you can hang your files in
  2. need hanging folders. Unless you really like the creativity of multiple colours I recommend choosing one colour for your hanging folders
  3. to create simple tabs for the names of the projects/client
  4. want to consider straight line filing.
  5. want to purge your files and paper once every 3 to 6 months depending on your role and the volume of paper that you handle.

Step 4. Keep your active files close

When deciding to organize your files it is important to determine when you may need your documents again.

I remember coaching an executive in a big bank whose daily files were in a filing cabinet in the corner of her office. Every time she needed a file she got out of her chair, walked across her office and retrieved the file. This took about 30 seconds to do.

Multiplying this by 10 times per day and you find that this executive spent 6 minutes a day walking back and forth across her room. It might not sound like much, but this translates into 30 minutes a week or 25 hours a year of walking back and forth. Another consequence of this is that this executive had a very messy desk because it was too difficult to put files back.

The point I am trying to make is that if you need to consult the information several times a day then you want to have the files within arms' reach. The daily or weekly files of projects that you are currently working on need to be stored in the drawer of your desk or in a vertical file holder on top of your desk.

Step 5: Maintain the discipline to organize files

These steps to organize files sound easy but can be quite difficult to maintain. One of the easiest ways to maintain the habit is to ensure that before you leave work each night that you have a place for everything and that everything is in its place. This is a key organizational principle that you can also apply to your home or home office.

Also consider a framework that you want to deal with for the daily paperwork that comes across your desk. For any paper work consider the following actions that you may need to do -  file, discard, delegate, or schedule for future action.

If you liked these 5 steps to organize files then you may also like these strategies for clutter control and organizing your bills.

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