Simplify Your Filing System and Retire Your To-File Pile

Dec 10, 2015 | Organization

The infamous to-file pile. Do you have one? When was the last time you made time to catch up on your filing? February? June?

The end of the year, as projects wind down and executives are out of the office, is a great time to work on your to-file pile and get your paper files organized before another year begins! But a lot of assistants struggle with filing because it feels overwhelming, we don’t know where to begin, or we haven’t made it easy to file in the first place. Let me explain.

Filing can also be inconvenient and time consuming. However, this is often because you don’t have the tools or supplies you need 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 your file. It’s no wonder we resist filing!

The filing process must be simplified. Here are two quick tips to help you do this.

  • filingexampleCreate a File-on-the-Go Station.
    To make filing a seamless task, you need all the tools for filing 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 of where you sit. Stock it with an assortment of file folders you use. Mine includes a combination of 1/3 cut manila folders, an assortment of 1/3 cut color folders, and a variety of poly folders that I use for organizing my projects. You may also want to include a good writing 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. This is far from the truth! The purpose of a file folder is to contain and label similar items so you can then 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 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 perfectly printed file label then invest in a label maker that you can keep in your desk drawer or your file-on-the-go station.

Now that you’re setup for filing efficiently, you need to think through and fine tune your overall filing system. If you already have a good system, consider what’s working well and what could work better. 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 file pile, you need to create some structure to follow. If your filing system is random and unorganized, start by identifying the categories or groupings for your files. You may have categories such as: Accounting, Legal, Marketing, Operations, Projects, etc.

Once you identify your major 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 just getting started creating sub-categories, so don’t go too crazy creating 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 additional files.

2. Develop a Color Code
Color-coding file folders with various color files or colored stickers makes them more visual. And color can make a world of difference in quickly finding things or identifying when something is 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 needs to access the files — knows the system, and you have a better chance of maintaining it.

Here are some color-coding examples I’ve used:

  • 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 executive I supported. 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
filingexamplefilesIf 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: One option for this type of tickler is to 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 appropriate 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 (5 files total). Put each item in the appropriate month folder that it needs to be handled, or you need to be reminded to take action. At the beginning of each new month, place the five weekly folders behind that month’s main folder and put each item in the week of the month 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 our jobs. But it doesn’t have to consume all of your time or add a lot of stress to your day. By following these tips you can keep your to-file pile under control and keep papers from taking over your workspace.

© 2015 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 request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at www.AllThingsAdmin.com.

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