Last week I walked into the office of a new client who was struggling under piles of paper. I’ve seen it before of course, it’s nothing new, and I know what to do to set up a system that works. Of course the next step is finding the commitment to the time and effort that will inevitably be needed for this to happen. Getting it done is truly my joy and passion. My reward is sharing in the joy of watching their faces light up as the final touches come together.
One of the things that I try to impart on my clients during the process is that there are some very clear guidelines on the various types of categories things fall into. It’s the same for ‘stuff’ as well as for ‘paperwork’. Everything falls into a category and determining what that main category is, is really important.
Something to remember is that when you are categorizing as part of the process of organizing, there are going to be some grey areas between some categories. When we run into those items which fall in between two otherwise distinct categories we have to make a choice. That choice should be whatever category it is ‘more’ like. With paperwork I would say it first depends on whether the paperwork/file represents an ‘action’ that must take place first.
Alas, I won’t get into the complex dynamics of workflow in this article today, instead what I would like to do is share some ideas on the ABC’s of a great filing system, some key tips to setting up a system and also maintaining it.
When it comes to files there are three basic types of files everyone and every business should have.
Basic Files and
ABC of course!
Sure, these files have gone under different names before, and within these broad categories lay other sub-categories, yet this ABC method of explaining these basic categories may serve to keep things extra simple and help with the bigger picture.
In fact it really doesn’t matter what you call these categories as long as you know what goes where and how long you are keeping it for.
‘Action Files’ consist of things you must work on themselves and the materials that support everyday workflow. These materials can be checklists, projects in the works, pricing quotes etc, etc. To hold action files I suggest a tabletop file sorter for daily, short-term filing, and an area for ‘projects’ and ‘resources’ that are ongoing.
Then there are ‘Basic Files’ which are kind of like the office or household working file system. Best kept in a file cart, cabinet or drawer, basic files hold medical insurance records, home records, credit card statements, rent receipts and bank statements. Within this category you will need to have areas for the property records, current finance records, policies, personal family records and perhaps resources too.
‘Classic Files’ are meant for long term storage, such as for tax returns. Use file cabinets or records boxes to protect these items for long-term storage. If you have trouble remembering when to purge old records, try setting up a rotating system, such as with the Freedom Filer.
If you struggle with knowing where your files belong, try thinking about these ABC’s while organizing your files. It may just help put your filing system into a better perspective.
No matter what kind of files you are working with, the following 8 tips should make things a lot easier for anyone to set up a good system that works well:
1. File "alpha-numerically", by "subject" or "chronologically" by date. (Be careful to chose which makes most sense in each category and sub-category for the long term and short term before deciding)
2. Create an "Information Map" showing layout and the logical relationships between various file sections. (Keep this handy for all to see)
3. Use "Visual Helpers" such as colour coding, well labeled cabinets etc.
4. Separate unnecessary information so that it doesn't become stored.
5. Active files should be routinely purged and Inactive keep current also. (Use a well established system and file consistently using that system)
6. Don't let "To Be Filed" piles grow. Never more than a week should go by before the pile is completely filed correctly.
7. In large offices there should be a card placed in files place when a worker removes the file. This way anyone else looking for it will know where it is.
8. Break down larger files into manageable sections. (For example a large project may have several sections like, payment records, scheduling, correspondence, floor plans, contacts list etc.)
Now that you have the tips to create an easy to use system that works here are a few things you should try to avoid when it comes to filing.
-Keeping materials past their need date
-Keeping files "Just in Case"
-Failing to review and purge regularly
-Filing duplicate information
-Not communicating procedures others.
As a home and office organizer I know that the task of setting up a good system fast can seem daunting if you haven't done it before.
Paper clutter can be a big issue for many and I would like to remind everyone that is suffering with paper clutter that you are not alone!
I’ll say it again, you are not alone!
Throughout the year I hear many people comment to me about how they feel alone and overwhelmed. It seems that ‘I’ll get to it soon’ story we tell ourselves is just that, a story we use to keep putting this work off.
De-cluttering piles of paper and clutter can be a daunting task, I know. I actually enjoy this work but that’s just the way I happen to be. I recognize that organization isn't everyone's strong point, yet it is something anyone can get good at. With a little practice putting things away and writing things down, staying organized can be alot easier.
To get started on the right foot, some professional organizing assistance can make it even easier. Also, the act of having a partner to work with sure helps the task seem less stressful. Call on me if you have paper piles and clutter you need help with. It would be my pleasure to assist you.
And remember, I love hearing from clients and readers and I will personally answer all your questions and comments. Leave your comment below the article on my site.
Summer is here! Well at least officially, since no one has told the clouds to go away. I really enjoyed the few hours of sun I managed to get last week, yet I am eager to break out my rollerblades again soon.
Do you have holiday plans this summer? Planning to get away and enjoy some time relaxing, away from the demands of work and life?
Did you know that generally, people tend to feel more relaxed about their work when they are just about to leave for holidays?
It seems kind of odd to say that because it means walking away even though work is still on the table. Yet there are good reasons that many feel more relaxed before leaving on a trip.
Mainly it is because most people will take time to review all of their outstanding commitments prior. They review their tasks, get as much done as possible, delegate to others and they defer as much as they can, until after their return.
This doesn’t mean getting everything done. There are still tasks waiting for us to come back to, yet there is a sense of relief that comes from putting tasks in perspective and having a plan.
Trip or no trip, are you ready to take a holiday from
the ‘State of Overwhelm’ now?
Here are five steps to help you gain more piece of mind today...
Step one: Grab a pad of paper and a pen. Yes, you can do this in electronic format on your computer, it’s your choice. I prefer pen and paper for this myself.
Step two: Write down all of your ‘outstanding tasks’. Everything on your brain and every little reminder on the post-it notes you have dispersed around your office or home. Capture every errand, call, appointment, must read, chore, etc.
Step three: Divide it up a bit. You know ‘errands with errands’ and ‘calls with calls’. Organize it in a way that works best for you and be sure to highlight the items of greater importance.
Step four: Review the list and see if you can cross some things off. If you have things that ‘would be nice’ but are not necessary, put them on your ‘someday/maybe’ list.
Step five: If it must be done, or has a deadline, get it in your calendar. Get the stones down, as they say.
If you are hesitating to do this because you feel so overwhelmed and think ‘I just don’t have time, it will take too long’, try it anyway. The reality is that it won’t take as long as you think, and it truly will save you time and energy.
When you write things down and gather your ‘outstanding tasks’ in one place, they become visible and more manageable. Also, you are taking away the burden you place on your subconscious by forcing your mind to try and remember every thing at once.
The truth is, if you find out you have too much on your plate, you’ll really know it’s time to get some help and support. (That's me.)
You’ll also be more inclined to be a little more ruthless about crossing stuff off your list.
On the other hand, imagine how great it will feel to look over this list, plan your important tasks and be reassured that you can get what needs to be done, done!
Have you tried it? I would love to hear about your success. Post a note on the blog and share your experience with us.
Here are some related articles that will cover more ground on this topic: