- Use color coding to your advantage. If you have a different-colored folder for each of your main projects or for each department you regularly work with, finding what you need will be a snap. Say your boss asks for a budget-related document—just look for the purple folder in which you keep all your budget materials. This works for electronic folders as well as paper. Make sure you’re taking advantage of the color coding options in Outlook and other software programs.
- Use broad headings for all your files. If you labeled a file “Procedural Memo on How to File Expense Reports Dated 1/20/16,” you’d soon find that you need 14 filing cabinets to house the overflow. Instead, use a broad term like “Expense Reports, 2016,” and file all your procedural memos there, along with copies of expense reports. Other examples of broad headings to use: “Industry News,” “Ad Campaigns” and “Budget 2012.”
- Try subdividing broad headings. In your “Budget 2012” hanging file, you could label individual folders with categories such as “Salaries,” “Performance Reviews” and “Production Costs.”
Try to mark the files neatly and clearly, but don’t go off the deep end. If the filing takes on a life of its own and you find yourself setting up a new filing system, stop. Delegate that task to someone else, or make do with a less-than-perfect system. The time you’d invest in revising your filing system is an invitation to procrastinate.
5 secrets to better file organizing
1. If it works, don’t worry about how it looks. As long as your filing system works for you, it’s really a matter of your personal style. Some businesspeople are neat and orderly; others have cluttered desks and messy offices. Both types can be organized, despite their obvious differences. Some people with incredibly cluttered desks can retrieve files faster than others who are neatness freaks.
2. Organize your files around retrieval. Your goal is easy retrieval. After all, if you can’t find a file, you might as well not have it.
3. Assign toss-out dates to your files. If you never throw anything away, you’ll make the filing cabinet manufacturers very happy, but you’ll waste time trying to find anything. You simply don’t have to keep every scrap of paper forever. Caution: Some documents, for legal or financial reasons, must be kept a specified length of time (see page 12).
4. Move your paper—don’t let it pile up. To avoid huge piles of paper on your desk, make it a habit to go through the stack several times a week. Start at the top of the pile and do something—anything—with each piece. Give it to your boss, throw it away, file it or reply to it immediately. Or, if you can’t figure out what to do with it then, place it in a holding file, assign it a date and deal with it later.
5. Clear your desk before you leave for the day. Each night, stack files neatly, put away items you won’t need tomorrow and throw away trash. At the center of your desk, place all the “to do” projects you’ll need to handle tomorrow. Final tip: Review your files every three or four months. Try not to keep items for more than a year. As one time-management expert pointed out, 80% of what we file we never look at again.