Even as more and more of our documents are stored electronically and in the cloud, the old-fashioned paper filing system still holds an important place in just about every office. Ideally, your office filing system is a super-convenient home for hard copies, an at-your-fingertips backup immune to power and Internet outages, and a way to keep paper from cluttering everyone’s desks. The reality, though, is often quite different.
A disorganized, cluttered, or confusing filing system can create more problems than it solves. People start getting scared that the files will “eat” their documents, so to keep them “safe” they begin to pile them up on their desk, on their bookshelves, and all kinds of random places. Frankly, it’s kind of a nightmare.
But there’s no reason to be afraid! Quill is here to help you take control of the situation. (It’s something of a specialty over here.) So, take a deep breath, relax, and let us show you how to file documents in a way that will make your life much easier.
The Symptoms of a Sick System:
Everyone’s “file hell” is unique, but there are some warning signs that most messed-up systems have in common:
- You can’t find anything and don’t know if what you need was filed by name, year, company, or shoe size.
- You’ve got all kinds of duplicate files and it takes a scavenger hunt to track down the one that actually holds your document.
- Files are so full that it’s hard to put documents in and take them out. Everything tears at the staples.
- You’re keeping items that aren’t files. Office supplies, candy for the candy jar, a pair of flats, the kitchen sink…
- You’re constantly running out of room and expanding your file capacity.
Triage and Treatment
How you approach the problem will depend on your resources. There are so many types of filing systems out there, and they all have strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you have carte blanche to start from scratch, or maybe you need to stick with the system you have and improve it. No matter what, here are a few steps you can take today to make things better:
Purge! Get rid of everything you can. Certain records need to be kept for a mandated amount of time, so be careful, but every filing cabinet holds things that can absolutely be thrown away. Old fliers for the company food drive from 1998? Gone.
Pick one! It doesn’t matter if you organize things alphabetically, geographically, chronologically, or astrologically. What matters is consistency.
Choose categories. And subcategories. These will be determined by your business, and you can have as many as you want, but it pays to be clear, simple, and literal. Filing is no place for intuition. Just say no to guessing games! If you’re wondering whether an invoice should go in a client file or the taxes file, you’re doing it wrong: make an invoices file, and call it a day.
Color code. Sometimes the oldest solutions are the best. Don’t waste time reading every tiny label to find the file you need. Clear color divisions will help you narrow things down at a glance. We have a whole colored color labels to choose from, so don’t hold back!
Get suitable storage. If your filing cabinets are old and rickety, if you fear for your life when they wobble or put out your back when you try to pry them open, you’re never going to conquer filing. Even if the budget is tight, it’s worth fighting for some decent filing cabinets.
Maintenance is the Best Medicine
Once you have everything organized, the next trick is keeping it that way. There are a few steps you can take to keep your filing system in good shape.
Make it a priority. With the fast pace of most offices, it’s easy to fall behind on filing. Before you know it, things pile up, mis-filed documents are never spotted again, and the situation begins sliding towards chaos. Scheduling just one dedicated hour of filing activities every week will do wonders for keeping you on track.
Make it as easy as you can. The right accessories will streamline the process. A simple thing like printable file labels can save you many tedious minutes of writing by hand and ensure that they are legible to everyone.
Make it common knowledge. If you’re not the only one dealing with files, have a quick meeting with everyone else to run over how the system works. Then keep everyone’s memory fresh by posting a list of rules and best practices in full sight of the filing cabinets. Making the sign attractive and changing it often are the best ways to make sure people pay attention. Try printing it on some fun paper and don’t be afraid to use humor to get your point across.
Coping with messy files is easier than it looks. There’s no reason to feel overwhelmed. Maybe you inherited a monster when you took the job, maybe the prevalence of online files made it seem less relevant, or maybe the demands of everything else you have to juggle on a day to day basis led to neglect. But with just a little bit of attention, you can free yourself and your office from the quagmire. No matter what the source of the problem is or was, it can be fixed!