Can you find anything in your paper files in 5 seconds or less like I can?
How long does it take you to find a piece of paper on your desk or in your files? Is it stored under “Car” or “Toyota”? Is it in Suzi’s desk, Jim’s desk or the central files? For years now, I’ve had a filing system that really works! I don’t have to remember where I filed something or worse yet, where my assistant filed things, because I have a tool to help me remember. I use a filing system software tool called Taming the Paper Tiger.
So, how can you get your paper files in order?
Types of Files
First, organize your papers by category to determine the different types of files you should have. If you already have a filing system, you may have designated different filing cabinet drawers for broad categories. For example, small businesses use file headings like Active Clients, Inactive Clients, Company Information, Financial and Reference. Larger companies break down their files even further, adding classifications such as Accounts Payable and Contracts.
Many home-based businesses use the same filing system for their business and home and will need Financial and Reference files for their personal papers. Everyone has Action or Project files. This basic structure is the most important part of any filing system. I compare it to the Chart of Accounts for your accounting system. You only want to do it once.
Once you’ve determined the types of files you need, label them appropriately. (Yes, that is what those plastic tabs in the box of folders are for.) Use Taming the Paper Tiger software to print your labels onto tabs. With Avery Worksaver Inserts, you just load the sheets in your printer and print out 30 at a time. Tear them apart and stick them in the tabs. The software comes with pre-printed Reference and Action tabs. If you’re setting up your system manually, write the file name onto each tab. The software automatically numbers your tabs: Active Client 1, Active Client 2, etc. With this system, you’ll never have to make up tabs again or change folders around.
Sort the Piles of Paper
Start with the papers on your desk. Choose which ones you need and which you can toss. Use the “Art of Wastebasketry” questions in Taming the Paper Tiger to help. If you can toss it now, do it! As you organize your papers into files and folders, input the file names into the software. If you already have folders set up, file your papers now. Watch the piles diminish in size. Be sure to set a time limit for this project. I can’t tell you how many clients keep at it because they sleep better at night knowing where everything is. I can almost bet you’ll find something of value too! When I was setting up filing systems in people’s offices, on every job we would find money or an important document that had monetary value.
Print a File Index
At the end of each major filing session, print a new index, using one of the reports available in your Taming the Paper Tiger software or type the names of your tabs in a table in your word processor, if you are doing this manually. The report prints out all the files in alphabetical order. The key to any good filing system is having a file index. Then you don’t have to get up and open the filing cabinet drawers to see what is in there. You can now even see what is in off-site storage.
Make Time to Process New Paper
You may not finish this project all at once because new paper will always find its way into your in-basket. Schedule time on your calendar to process your papers each day. Usually 15 minutes or less will be sufficient. Use the same Art of Wastebasketry questions to move paper to the next action place. Whew! No more piles everywhere. Your papers are organized!
Taming the Paper Tiger software comes with a tutorial that describes the entire process, using pictures and video clips. Plus, there is a lot of help from the vendor. If you need additional help, contact us at the Center. Just get started! We want to see you find anything in your files in five seconds or less like we can!
(This article was originally published in 2005.)