Paperwork Filing Tips: A Step-by-Step Guide

Paperwork Filing Tips: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Paperwork file organizing is a major component of an organized and functional office. In this post I write about how to keep paperwork from piling up into random chaos. This post is all about how to construct a filing system for all the papers that you have to keep.

Step 1) This might sound really obvious for a "step 1" but I feel I should mention it because not doing so could really derail a successful filing system in the long-term. Make sure you have enough room for all your paperwork. Are your drawers large enough and in the right location where they will be easy to access? If not, fix it so they will be.

One example of a vertical file holder.

One example of a vertical file holder.

Step 2) This means you might need to purge. Cramming too many papers in a drawer from start is only setting yourself up for disaster. If you are too overwhelmed to think about what to keep and what to pitch right now? Limit yourself to a date range for your file cabinet of 12-24 months. Store the rest in bankers boxes until you are ready to go through them and either archive or throw them away.

Step 3) Next you will want to create categories and sub-categories of the types of papers you file. For example, automobiles. Within automobiles you can create separate sections for each type of vehicle you have (if you have more than one). Then, within the specific car file, you can break it down even further into "important" for things like the title, manuals, etc. and then another file for "maintenance" where you keep your maintenance records. I suggest filing the most recent records in the back of the file.

Set yourself up for paperwork filing success with useful categories

The most effective way to approach creating your categories is to think about how your life/office functions. What is the work that you do there? What is your natural thought-process? Learning to "go with the flow" when setting up systems, verses creating a structure that so foreign to your natural inclinations will only make using new systems and habits all the more difficult.

An example of a wall-mounted hanging file solution.

An example of a wall-mounted hanging file solution.

Lastly, once you have decided how you want your filing system set-up, always incorporate the default alphabetical order rule. As with my automobile example, Honda would go before Toyota, etc.

Step 4) Can you pass the "find it" test? Yep, this is just what it says. Once you have your filing system set up, run a little BETA test. Pretend you need to "find" something you have filed, and see how long it takes you to find it. If it takes you a long time, or, you aren't able to find it at all, that is the sign of a failing system. Time to go back to the drawing board. Rethink how you have your files arranged. You want a system that is conducive to how you think about finding things.

Step 5) Establish a plan to keep your paperwork filing system working smoothly. No system maintains itself. You need to dedicate time out of your schedule to a) file new papers that come into your life and b) maintenance the file drawers themselves. Depending on the volume of your paperwork this can be daily, weekly, or even monthly, with more volume necessitating more frequency.

Bonus! When I'm sitting down to file paperwork, these are the must have supplies I have within easy reach:

Try to color code your files by like group, when possible.

Try to color code your files by like group, when possible.

  • Box of manila file folders

  • Box of hanging files

  • File cabinet or box

  • Color-coded file tabs

  • Label Maker

  • Envelopes

  • Stapler

  • Shredder

If stacks of papers are causing you stress, I understand. It can feel really overwhelming. Just know that with a plan, and some dedicated time to tackle it, you will be able to file everything and have it organized. I love being able to go into my file drawers and pull out exactly the piece of paper I need. And I know you will too!

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