According to the Economist the average American uses the paper equivalent of almost six 40-foot (12-metre) trees a year. That’s a lot of paper! While we would ideally have less paper in our home and office, frankly we need to find great strategies to create filing solutions and more efficient strategies to find what we need. Check out these basic filing techniques and tips.
#1 Know what to keep and how long to keep it
In the tsunami of paper that comes in your space, knowing what to keep is the crucial first step. It’s easy to be overwhelmed so look to a resource to help you. Every situation is a little different so start with your lawyer and accountant. They know your home and business details.
A detailed list of what to keep and how long is critical. My favorite resource is Oprah.com ABCs of Important Papers. Julie Morgenstern has a list that includes details about your home and work. For finances, I rely on Real Simple 5 Steps to Simpler Record Keeping. This document focuses on your financial documents. Between these two resources I find that your record retention is up to date.
While much of this information can be found online, it’s up to you to decide if you want a paper statement too. In some circumstances you can save a PDF of the online document to your personal Dropbox account or on your computer. Be sure you are always backing up if you decide to keep your documents electronically.
#2 Separate your documents by how long you will keep them
Divide your filing into two categories: reference and archive. Reference refers to document with information you refer to regularly. These are documents that are up to a year old. Archive refers to documents you must keep for the duration. By categorizing your files, it’s much easier to keep up to date and much simpler to know what information is kept in what area.
Set an annual file organizing time. It’s when you move files from reference to archive. This keeps your files updated and uncluttered. There’s nothing worse than a paper cut from overcrowded files! It also reminds you what you have in your files.
#3 Keep your filing simple
The simpler your filing the more you file. There are a few options for filing systems, depending on your style.
- The 1 box method takes only a little time and effort. Have a box in your space to drop in papers throughout the year. Label the box 20XX and you are all set. You can go through the box as needed to find papers.
- Notebooks make paper storage more accessible and visual. You can assign one category of files per notebook. It’s also an attractive way to store paper.
- File drawers with hanging files are the traditional organizing method. Use your label maker to create tabs for the files. You can see what the titles are and drop in your papers.
- File bins can used for archive documents and can be stored in the top of a closet or attic.
- Keep a basket for “to be filed” papers.
General, consistent categories make it easier and simpler to file.
- Traditional Home Categories: Financial, personal, home and auto
- Traditional Business categories: Financial, clients, vendors, administrative
- Traditional set up for file cabinet is a hanging files for category and an inner file folder for more specific details. (Financial drawer or notebook -> Hanging files Banking -> Bank of America and Compass Bank file folders)
Your file system is ready to go! Now it’s time to establish a weekly administrative time. Each week go through papers and place those that needed to be filed in your “to be filed” basket. Once a month or every other month do your filing. Make filing “fun” with a music set or while watching your favorite show. Filing is like laundry, there’s always some to do!
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