Essentials of an Effective Filing System

Do you remember when computers were hailed as the solution to our paper overload problems?

Headlines touted the notion of a ‘paperless office,’ and it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that our filing cabinets would soon be gone. Ten years later, the idea seems downright quaint. If anything, the average person today is inundated with twice as much paper than ever before. So it’s no wonder many of us struggle to keep those piles at bay. However, it can be done. The art of filing is a skill that, once mastered, will save you countless hours and gray hairs over the long run.

Sarah on ‘Obstacles to Filing Effectively’

‘If your kitchen table or home office is frequently buried under roving piles of paper, you may need to conquer some fairly common fears associated with filing. The first and probably most universal concern that hampers people’s ability to file effectively is the fear of throwing anything out (what if I need it someday?). Another stumbling block is decision making (is it important and if so, where do I put it?). And going hand in glove with decision making is the anxiety that you’ll lose track of time sensitive material that requires action (the old proverb ‘out of sight…out of mind’ sums it up nicely). A successful system will help you confront and resolve these fears as part of the process.’

Alicia on ‘Overcoming Inertia’

‘When we talked to busy women across America recently, they told us that they knew the trick to getting and staying organized was to do a little bit each day. But they admitted that it was difficult to accomplish without systems in place to help them do tasks such as filing efficiently. Establishing a base file classification doesn’t have to be daunting. We advocate an approach to organizing your papers that can be done a little bit at a time — and once in place — a daily habit that will keep the majority of those pesky papers in the right place.’

Ready, Set…File!

The three tips below will help you establish a useful method and a daily habit to stay on top of documents.

#1: Distinguish Between Papers that Require Action and All Others
If you do nothing else, separating the things that require action from those that are simply for ‘safekeeping’ will cut your headache in half. All you need to do this is a durable, portable folder or plastic sleeve for those items requiring action and a sturdy ‘inbox’ that will hold those items you need to file away for safekeeping.

#2: Stick to the Fundamentals
Make your base classification as simple and broad as you can. Naming conventions based on purpose or function (e.g. ‘Insurance: Home,’ ‘Child 1: School,’ or ‘New Business’) will make it a snap for anyone to find the appropriate file later. Write down your entire list of file categories/names before you actually create them, so you can check for redundancies and inconsistencies before putting pen to folder. If you don’t have time to create a complete system on the first day try to add one or two new folders to your system each day until you have finished the set and keep extra supplies on hand so that it’s easy to add more later.

#3: Establish a Habit

Commit to filing for six minutes each day (2 at the start of the day, 2 at lunch and 2 at the end of the day). You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly those piles disappear. In addition, take the action-item folder with you wherever you go and whittle away at its contents as you have ‘down moments’ throughout the week.