TIP 3 – USE A FILING SYSTEM
A key component of organization is being able to find something when you need it. A lot of people I know use a “pile” system for their filing. Often the “system” is; this pile is old, this one is older and this one is new. Then there is the “I will file this later” system. I have often fallen into all of these systems myself.
When I moved a couple of years ago, I was forced to downsize my office. Upon moving into my new office I immediately started working for a client who’s needed support generated lots of paperwork. I was quickly lost in too much paper and it was time to develop a good filing system for my new office.
There are no set rules to building a filing system. You need to set something up that works for your business needs, is easily understood by others and mostly something that is easy for you to use. As we discussed with Calendars and Task Lists in previous posts, a filing system is only as good as how much you use it. The simpler you make it; the easier it is to keep your paperwork filed.
So where do you start to set up a filing system? The first essential for a paper filing system is somewhere to keep your files. There are a lot of good options and the space you have available will probably dictate the type of file cabinet you decide on. A lateral file is a good option that gives you lots of file space as well as a large stable top that might work well for other things in your office such as your printer. Lateral files do take up more space than a vertical file so you need to make sure you have room for it. The cost of lateral files can often be more expensive too.
Vertical files can be a more cost effective option. They are come in 4 drawer and 2 drawer options and may be a better fit for your available space. I use a couple of two drawer types that fit nicely under a table I have in my office. If you only have a small amount of filing you may want to purchase just a stand up file that can fit on a desk top. I use one of these in addition to my filing cabinets to keep folders for current projects and items I use frequently.
Now that you have someplace to put it, how do you decide what files you need? Start by sorting your filing into categories that fit your business such as forms, brochures, orders, research, etc. Once you have this sort done take a look at each category and see if it can be broken down any further. Create a file folder for each pile. Just that easy you have started a filing system. Since a good filing system is fluid, you will be adding and maybe even deleting or renaming these folders as you work with the system. Be sure to create files for Receivables and Payables if they were not a part of your sort. These two files do go with any good business filing system.
Folders, Hanging Folders, Colors and Labels. After you have sorted your information you may want to consider the color coding your files in some way. Color coding can be a great way to quickly group and identify types of files that you have. As an example I use hanging files in different colors. I have one color for clients; one for forms, labels and other such tools; one for personal filing and so on. This helps me to quickly find things when I need it. Make sure that every file folder and/or hanging file is also labeled for easy identification. You can hand label files but I have found a good label maker such as the ones Dymo makes are a great tool. This way your files can all be uniform looking. Neat and organized files make filing and staying organized easier for you!
Organize Your Computer Files Too! So far we have discussed only organizing paper based files but you also have computer files that need to be organized. Start by making a dedicated area on your computer for your business files. Try it keep it easily accessible instead of burying it under other folders. Next like with paper files look at the different types of files you need to save. You are probably going to find that these are similar to the categories you established with your paper ones. Create a computer folder for each of these categories. Now be diligent with saving your business files in each of the categories you created. Yes it might mean a few extra key strokes to save or find your file in the correct folder but it will be worth it in the long run. Consider creating a shortcut for your desktop to take you to business folders that have information you use frequently. This will help you find what you are looking for quickly. It is also important to back up these files so if you experience a computer issue you will still be able to access your business files. A great way to do this is not to store them on your computer at all but instead using a cloud based service such as DropBox (www.dropbox.com). These types of services not only protect your files from computer problems but also allow you to access your files via the internet from any computer and smartphones. This will help you work more effectively and efficiently on the go as well as protecting your files.
Need some help with the items discussed in this post? Holton Administrative provides Business Support for all sizes of business. Contact us for a free consultation and to learn about our cost effective, as needed support packages.