How to Develop a Color Code for Better Organization

Jan 23, 2020 | Organization, Productivity

As an administrative professional, you understand just how much structure and organization comes into play on a daily basis. You probably have multiple systems and procedures that allow you to create order and inspire productivity. But with so many people and processes to manage, even the best of us can get overwhelmed when we look at our files, binders, and calendars.

One of the easiest ways to add structure and organization to your workspace, files, and more is to use color-coding. According to research by neuroscientists, our brains are hard-wired to process color before virtually anything else, improving comprehension and helping us process information more quickly, as well as retaining it longer.

Color coding typically applies more to paper files than digital files. However, many programs and task management tools allow you to add category colors so you can carry them over to your digital file management. And there are third-party software addons for Windows that let you add color to your digital folders, too.

Developing Your Color Code

When creating a color code, I start by evaluating the environment I’m working in.

  1. Are there colors already associated with specific categories of work, departments, or projects? If so, then try to incorporate that into your color code to reduce confusion for you and those you work with.
  2. What are your categories of work or types of projects? For example, when I worked corporately, I had a separate color assigned to each executive I supported, a color for my admin projects, legal contracts, business development projects, operations files, etc. Sometimes I had a separate color for each major project if there were a lot of them going on at the same time.

Depending on how many colors and categories you create, it may be helpful to you (and those you support) to create a color-code key. That way everyone knows the system, and you have a better chance of maintaining it.

Tools for Color Coding

There are dozens of fantastic options available to help you implement your color code – everything from files to labels to binders and more! Some of my favorite tools include:

If you don’t have the budget or approval to use colored file folders, you can still use color on your labels or apply colored stickers to make them more visual. Color can make a world of difference in quickly finding things or identifying when something is misplaced.

Implementing Your Color Code

Once you have the tools you need, you can transition files into their appropriate file color and get them labeled. Teach those you work with how to use the new system so they understand how it works and why it’s important. As you use your system, you’ll identify ways you need to fine tune it or add to it as you go.

Applying Color Codes to Calendars, Tasks, and Email

I mentioned color coding your paper files and coordinating it with your digital systems. This is one way I do that with Outlook Tasks, Calendar, and Categories.

In Microsoft Outlook, you can setup categories and associate a color with each one. Then you can use this to color code tasks, emails, and calendar appointments.

This is my standard color code:

  • Red – speaking engagements
  • Orange – clients or vendors
  • Yellow – training
  • Bright Green – team related
  • Standard Green – finance / accounting
  • Blue – business development
  • Teal – administrative
  • Purple – article/book writing

At a glance, I can quickly see (even if I can’t read all of the details) how many speaking engagements, client calls, and team meetings I have each week because of the colors I use on my calendar.

Our Teamwork project management tool allows us to color code projects and events we have on the calendar, too. So no matter where I look, red means it’s speaking related, yellow is for training, green is for team meetings, and so on.

We all want to be more organized. Color coding allows us to find what we need faster and easily identify where everything belongs. It makes planning easier, since we can see at a glance what categories demand our time. And when the rest of the team gets on board, too, it makes the entire office run more smoothly by keeping everyone on the same color-coded page!

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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity, and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures. 

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