HOW TO CREATE AN ORGANIZED FILING SYSTEM
No one filing system works for everyone. In end, test of a good filing system is being able to find something when you need it. However, there are two basic recommended set-up alternatives:
• Establish categories for like items by subject (e.g., Hobbies) • Establish an index based system with files identified numerically by item (e.g., File 1=Document 1)
You can choose method that makes most intuitive sense to you. People who have trouble categorizing may feel more comfortable with indexing approach.
Regardless of which type of system you choose, if you feel overwhelmed about where to start, pick a group of papers in any pile. It does not matter where you start…..you just need to start with a manageable subset of paper.
Active vs. Historic Files
Active files are those which you must access regularly. Historic files are those that it is unlikely you will need to access, but which you must keep for record retention purposes (i.e., tax files).
Your inactive files should not be kept in your active file space, if file cabinet space is limited. These files can be stored in boxes in an out of way location (since you should not be accessing these files regularly). To create your active files, follow steps outlined below.
ORGANIZING BY CATEGORY
Step 1 Sort & Discard
Review your papers and discard any papers you no longer need to keep. If you feel unsure about discarding an item, in order to make decision easier, ask yourself what’s worst thing that could happen if you throw it away? It helps to put things in perspective.
When you decide to keep a paper, sort paper into various categories/piles. Use post-it notes to label top page of each pile until a permanent file location/category name is established later.
Use categories that are broad for sorting. For example, if you have lots of information on various leisure interests, you can create a hanging file called “Leisure” (vs. creating a hanging file for every type of leisure topic in your papers).
If you have a major hobby such as photography, for which you collect a lot of information, create a separate hanging folder named “Photography”. This makes more sense (so that “leisure” file won’t become too unwieldy).
You can create multiple interior file folders that reside within hanging file folder, each labeled with category sub-topic. This makes it easier to search by sub-topic. For example, within “Leisure” hanging file category you might have file folders for sub-categories of Art, Music & Reading.
Step 2: Determine Quantity Files Needed
Once you are finished sorting, count and double check number of “piles” you have to keep. The number of piles equals number of hanging file folders you will need for your active files. You should buy a minimum of same number of interior file folders to insert inside hanging file folders (more if you will have some categories with multiple sub-topics).
Step 3: Identifying/Labeling The Files Create a set of hanging file folders and associated interior file folder(s) for each pile and its sub-categories.
In order to maintain transition from active to historic status at end of each year, interior files should be labeled by subject and current year (e.g., Life Insurance 2004). This dating approach is best for those categories that involve monthly statements or bills.
For your hanging folders that do contain dated material, it is best to keep static papers that don’t change from year to year in front of interior folders (e.g., life insurance policy versus quarterly invoices). This will make it easy to transition files from active to historical status at year end.
Step 4: Estimate file cabinet size
Once you put appropriate papers in files, you can get a sense of how many file cabinet drawers you will need. Using a single “Bankers Box” (heavy corrugated storage box) to stand files up to measure inches in depth needed is very helpful. These boxes are available at office supply stores, and also will serve later for inactive storage purposes).