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Creating an organized filing system will keep an office running more smoothly, whether you work from home or in a large shared workspace. A logical filing system is crucial when multiple individuals make use of the same files, because it will allow everyone to quickly and easily access the information that they need. If you are organizing your filing system, plan on setting aside at least a day to do it, so that you will not lose track of what you are doing in the middle of the process.
To start making an organized filing system, divide your work into two categories: active and archival. Active material would include pending action items, ongoing projects, or reading material that needs to be readily accessible. Archival material includes data that does not need to be readily available. Plan on setting aside space next to your desk for your active items, and another filing area for archival work. Also plan on a discard schedule for archives. Consider legal constraints before discarding archived material: some businesses must keep financial records on hand for a set period of time, for example.
Consider the type of active materials you have ongoing when you create an organized filing system. If you are an accountant, for example, you might have open invoices, accounts payable, accounts due, and profit and loss reports for the quarter you are working in. If you are a designer, you might have several ongoing projects for various clients, samples pending, bids that you are waiting for a response on, and so forth. Construct a set of loose categories for your filing system, and plan on making subcategories within the general categories. In this way, you know that you can find all pending invoices, for example, in one central location. Within that location, the invoices might be organized alphabetically by vendor, in order of amount, or in some other way that makes sense to you.
Then set up your archival folders. When creating an organized filing system, plan on using a method that is logical to you and others in the office environment. Perhaps you want to organize archives alphabetically by project. In a small office where files are kept in a central location, archives should probably be broken up by subject: projects, financial records, user manuals, and so forth. Within each broad category, make smaller folders.
When you make folders for an organized filing system, use big, easy to read fonts on tabs that stand out well above the rest of the folder, so that you can quickly find a section. You may also find it helpful to use color coded tabs or files, so that you can see a clear visual breakdown between categories. Keep a stock of folders, tabs, and equipment on hand so that you can easily make more files when you need to: do not succumb to the temptation of a “to be filed” tray.
Once you have built the skeleton of your filing system, then you can integrate all of the paper and printed material that needs to be filed. Empty out all of your filing cabinets, pending trays, and other stacks of paper. Go through all of the material, first determining what needs to be kept and what needs to be thrown away. Not every piece of paper needs to be saved: keep the relevant or useful material and get rid of the rest. Your filing system should not contain every single piece of paper ever used in the history of the business. As you purge, sort material into active or archival categories, and file it in the appropriate area.
Once you have created an organized filing system, you will probably find that your life is much easier. Maintain the system with frequent purges of old material, and stay on top of your filing to prevent material from accumulating.
@Grivusangel - Good ideas! I thought about that for doing my tax returns, since the IRS says you're supposed to keep them for seven years, I think. I have one of those accordion folders and they're all filed in there by year so I can usually find them pretty easily.
This is one way to do it if you're doing this for an office, but some people need to file things at home, or their office work isn't predicated on "active" and "archived" files.
Most people who are filing things at home will be archiving things like tax records, photographs or family documents.
For tax records, the easiest thing to do is file by year, and then by sub-type: tax forms, receipts, etc.
For items like photographs, file by category: family, friends, and then by year.
For family documents, file by type: house, car, financial, personal (birth and death certificates, marriage certificates, wills, etc.).
Sometimes, keeping the system simple, but flexible, is the best way to do it.
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