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Investing some time in
your filing system is not only good for your business, but for
your family -- who gets to see more of you when
you get that office clutter under control!
by Debbie Williams
Did you know that the average executive
wastes 150 hours per year looking for documents? One in 20 documents
is lost and never recovered. As an organizational consultant,
the most common question I hear from clients is: How Do I
Get My Papers Organized? I'd like to help you create a working
system for your home or office.
A basic filing method can be
set up with three easy steps:
- 1. Sort it
- 2. File it
- 3. Follow up on it
Sort It. Before you can file a single piece of paper, you
need to sort through the stacks. Get rid of anything that you
haven't used for the past year, except tax and business documents.
This applies to business and personal papers, magazines, newsletters,
business cards, and your Rolodex.
File It. 80% of what you file is never looked at again!
This puts things into perspective, doesn't it? There are two
basic file types: archives and current. Archive files contain
legal and tax papers, while current files include receipts, warranties,
instruction manuals, reference material, client information,
Follow Up On It. There are several ways to keep track
of projects you need to complete, or clients you need to contact
at a later date.
- File Box. Purchase index cards with labeled dividers.
You can use an alphabetical system, or write your own category
name on the tab. Note important dates and projects on each card,
- Accordion File Folder. Buy a 3-sided folder labeled A-Z or 1-30
for your desktop or cabinet. Place each document to be processed
at a later date behind the corresponding numbered or lettered
divider. Keep only the current month in the dividers, placing
the distant dates in the back of the folder. At the beginning
of each month, pull the papers for the current month's attention
to be filed. Repeat as necessary each month.
- Computerized Planner. The software is designed for use alone
or with a companion notebook organizer. Some have an alarm or
flagging feature, which automatically notifies you of upcoming
projects and their due dates.
Now that you've established your
paper management system, let's think about maintaining it!
To maintain your filing system,
just remember three easy rules:
- 1. Keep everything in its place
- 2. File as you go
- 3. Be consistent
Keep Everything In Its Place.
Mail order catalogs contain
wonderful organizing products - such as bill paying notebooks,
greeting card files, budget managers and planning calendars -
to help categorize your information. In addition, discount stores
or office supply stores offer magazine holders, hanging folder
holders, milk crates, vertical file holders, wicker baskets,
and stacking trays that will help put your documents in order.
File As You Go. Here's a few tips:
- Use a tray or a folder to collect
mail and process daily.
- File business cards or update
your database on a daily basis.
- Post upcoming business and personal
transactions in your planner or follow-up file, then file the
- Keep receipts in a folder or
envelope, then cross-reference with your itemized bills.
- Purge files at least once a
- Designate a time and place to
process mail and record incoming bills.
- Be Consistent.
- Remember to only be as organized
as you need to be. Tackle those stacks of paper ten or fifteen
minutes at a time each day until you can finally see your desktop.
I think you'll be surprised at how much you get done in a short
- Set up your files where they
will actually be used, not where you think they belong.
For instance, if you like to read the mail at the kitchen table
while drinking a cup of coffee, then sort and file papers in
the kitchen, rather than the office.
Once you've set up your working
system, commit to maintaining it. You can do it. And you'll
find more time to spend on the things that are really important
to you -- like your family!
- Debbie Williams is an independent writer and owner of
Let's Get It Together,
a home and office organizing and time management service for
busy parents. She stays in touch with her clients via e-mail
([email protected]), her web site,
and her address, P.O. Box 590860, Houston, TX 77259.