Time for a ‘how-to’ post to save you some time in the office. For incoming information that makes it past “delete”, we need a system to hold our active or “do” items and those we designate for reference. (See the recent post on decision making). Filing systems are the most commonly used but unless set up effectively can quickly become cumbersome space hogs full of files 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 hierarchy
Rather than filing in categories labelled 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 guess work 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 file architecture for paper and electronic files
Mirror the system in both paper and electronic environments so you don’t lose time moving between the two. This is especially important as more and more documents are in digital form.
3. Develop a consistent nomenclature
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. Using the yyyy_mm_dd format will mean files sort alphabetically in chronological order.
Take time to include information needed to identify the file in the file name itself, especially important if you have multiple files with similar names. Use keywords when naming files to make it easier to find them later. Be considerate and include information of use to others who may also be referring to the document.
4. Be selective about what to 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 the files you work on often are easy to access – either close at hand or very few clicks away. You may choose to use desktop file holders to keep active paper files tidy, in sight, 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 sure your paper filing system is easy to use
Naming computer files strategically is part of saving electronic files so should happen naturally. 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.
When 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.
When using binders, make use of the label holder on the spine of the binder and add an index inside to keep your information well sorted.