Simplify Your Filing System and Retire Your To-File Pile

Feb 10, 2022 | Organization

When was the last time you made an effort to catch up on your filing? Last month? Last summer?

Many times, we struggle with filing because it feels overwhelming, we’re not sure where to begin, or we don’t have an easy system in place.

Filing can be inconvenient and time consuming. However, this is often because you don’t have the right tools or supplies to quickly grab a folder and create a label.

Filing usually means getting up from your desk, walking to a supply cabinet, locating the file folders, walking back to your desk, printing a label, feeding the label sheet into the printer, retrieving the label from the printer, and finally assembling the file. It’s no wonder we resist it!

But there are ways to simplify your filing system. Here are two quick tips.

  • Create a File-on-the-Go Station.
    To make filing a seamless task, you need all the filing tools at your fingertips. Find a free-standing, vertical tray sorter with one or two sections. Place the sorter on your desk within arm’s reach. Stock it with an assortment of file folders you use. Mine includes a combination of 1/3 cut manila folders, 1/3 cut color folders, and poly folders that I use for organizing my projects. You may also want to include a pen, marker, or pencil for labeling your folders.
  • Make Labeling Easy.
    One of the struggles admins have with paper filing is that they think labels need to be neatly typed before they can create the file. It’s actually not necessary at all! The purpose of a file folder is to contain and label similar items so you can store everything in its rightful place. You can always add a printed label later, but at least get it written on there in pencil for now, so that it’s labeled if you or someone else needs to locate it. A handwritten file folder label is just as effective as a beautifully printed label. But if you absolutely must have a printed file label then invest in a label maker that you can keep in your desk or your file-on-the-go station.

Now that you’ve set yourself up for filing efficiently, you need to fine tune your overall filing system. If you already have a good system, consider what’s working well and what’s not. If you don’t have a system, it’s time to develop one. Here are three tips to help you get started.

1. Categorize Files
Before you tackle your to-file pile, you need to create some structure. If your filing system is random and unorganized, start by identifying the categories for your files, such as: Accounting, Legal, Marketing, Operations, Projects, etc.

Once you identify your categories, break them down into smaller, logical groups or subcategories. For example, your Operations pile may have sub-categories such as: Building Lease, Copier Repair & Maintenance, and Parking Permit Administration. Less is more when you’re creating sub-categories, so don’t go too crazy making them if you don’t need them. Also, a good rule of thumb is if your primary file is starting to get too full, then it’s probably time to break it down into sub-categories.

2. Develop a Color Code
Color-coding file folders with various color files or stickers makes them more visual. And color can make a world of difference in quickly finding things if something gets misplaced. Depending on how many colors and categories you create, it may be helpful to create a color code key. That way you – and anyone who accesses the files – knows the system, and you have a better chance of maintaining it

Here are some color-coding examples:

  • Project Types
    – Business development projects are green (for money)
    – Administrative projects are blue (for corporate)
    – Speaking projects are red (for hot item or important)
  • Executives – I always assigned a color to each of my executives. Then I had three, 1/3 cut folders labeled in their color for ongoing use:
    – Executive’s Name – Signature File
    – Executive’s Name – Meeting/Travel Planning
    – Executive’s Name – Projects (or Open Items)

3. Use Tickler Files

If you have a lot of recurring things to manage, it might help to develop a weekly or annual tickler file system. This becomes your system for managing the day-to-day tasks and projects that’s much more effective than big piles on your desk. There are a couple of ways you can do this

  • Daily / annual tickler: For this type of tickler, you create a hanging file folder for each month of the year – January through December (12 files total). Then create a hanging file folder for each day of the month – 1 through 31 (31 files total). Put each item you need to remember in the month folder that it needs to be handled, or you need to be reminded to take action. At the beginning of each month, place the daily folders (1-31) behind that month’s main folder. Review the items in the monthly folder and place the specific items in the appropriate day of the month that you need to begin working on it or that it needs to be handled. This will require you check the tickler file on a daily basis, so you don’t miss any important tasks or deadlines.
  • Weekly / annual tickler: Another way you can create a tickler is with a weekly and annual set-up. As with the first option, create a hanging file folder for each month of the year – January through December (12 files total). Then create a hanging file folder for each week of the month – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, and Week 5 (five files total). Put each item in the month folder that it needs to be handled, or you need to be reminded to take action. At the beginning of each month, place the five weekly folders behind that month’s main folder and put each item in the week that it needs to be handled. This will require you check the tickler file on a weekly basis, so you don’t miss any important tasks or deadlines.

Filing paper is a necessary part of any admin’s job. But it doesn’t have to consume all of your time or add stress to your day. By following these tips you can keep your to-file pile under control and prevent papers from taking over your workspace.

© 2022  Julie Perrine International, LLC

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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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