Paper filing system

rolling file cart
Storage Solution (Container Store)

Paper filing system are time savers, easy to use and maintain, and contain only those items that must be kept for immediate action or future reference. As a Professional Organizer and Productivity Specialist I hear people complain that filing is boring, thus the piles of paper. Sometimes the culprit is that there is no filing system which makes it highly inefficient to use. Lack of regular file maintenance is another cause of paper clutter. Whether your office is at home, offsite, for personal or professional use the question to ask yourself is: Is your current paper filing system working for you? Answer the following questions.

Paper filing system | Storage

Box of hanging files
Organizing your files

Questions to ask about your paper filing system:

  1. Does your system allow you to store papers and documents rather than leave them out in piles?
  2. Do your files fit in a designated space. If not, are there too many files or not enough space?
  3. Does the drawer or container that your files are stored in make retrieval and filing easy or is the space too full?

Paper filing system | Retrieval

More Professional Organizer‘s questions that you can ask to assess your file system:

  1. Are your files are in an order that makes it easy to find things quickly?
  2. What system do you use… alphabetical, color coded, numerical?
  3. Are your files labeled and ordered In broad categories and subcategories?
  4. Are you able to find documents within the files in an efficient manner. For example, current documents are towards the front of the file or in the back but not mixed.)
  5. Are the papers within each file facing the same way?
  6. Are multi page documents stapled (or clipped) so that they stay together and can be retrieved in whole.
  7. Are important and sensitive documents easily found in the event of an emergency?

Paper filing systems | Ease of use

Paper filing system have advantages that digital or electronic systems may not offer. Identify whether or not you need to see it, read a hard copy to understand it, feel it and file it to help remember where it is stored and can be retrieved.

Distinguish between action and reference items. Action items require that you must do something with it by a certain date. If this is the case keep it until you’ve completed the action. Action items are not papers, articles, etc. that you would like to read someday when you have time.

  1. Do I need to keep it for reference after the action is completed? If so, decide how long you must keep it and where it can be stored and easily retrieved.
  2. Under what conditions will you be able to recycle or shred it? For example, after verification that the bill has been paid? Once the event or trip has taken place?

Reference items that you need on a short term basis can be kept in paper filing systems or scanned and filed digitally. Limit long term reference items except for legal, financial including tax purposes (consult your tax preparer and/or attorney). Reference items that can be easily obtained online will take up unnecessary space in your filing system.

Shred or recycle junk mail

Paper filing system | Maintenance

Organizing requires ongoing maintenance and taking time to declutter.

  1. Do you have a maintenance schedule? If not, create one and make time to purge unnecessary items and organize the ones that you keep.
  2. Update the order and placement of files.
  3. Re-label files as needed. Replace tattered hanging files, tabs and folders.
  4. Do you have files in multiple locations? Store the ones that you use most frequently closest to your work surface. Relocate files in easiest to reach locations. For example, old tax files may be better located in a bottom drawer and weekly/monthly used files in an upper drawer to limit bending.

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