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How to Create a Paper Filing System

How-to-Create-a-Paper-System 300No matter how much you’ve converted to paperless practices, your home and office will always collect a certain amount of paper to be filed away. If you don’t want unruly piles gathering, having a system – and a schedule – in place makes filing much simpler. Start by considering what you actually use in your files and then create the filing system that suits your needs.

What paper are you saving and what really needs to be filed? Are you keeping records of household accounts, research relating to your small business or other kinds of paperwork? Do you need to have access to them daily? Weekly? Are your records mostly long-term documents or vital records such as mortgage agreements or marriage certificate, which you only need to pull out once in a blue moon? Assessing how much paper comprises each category will help you determine where to file it all. There are a million ways to create a file system. Below, we’ve provided a guide that will work for some and not for others. If you need help, give this system a try and let us know if it works for you.

Set up a file for your “must do” items and a system for frequently referenced files. Create an action items file, and label each item that goes into it by the appropriate action category: To call, To pay, Do @ computer. If it helps you stay on top of things, you can color code items according to level of urgency.

For household projects, business expenses or other current activity, your files should be located nearby for quick, easy accessibility. I call this area ‘prime real estate’. Choose hanging files if you’re using a traditional filing cabinet or whittle it down to a small, upright desktop file rack – either way, opt for vertical files over flat stacking-style inboxes. Be a “filer” not a “piler”! If piling is a must (and it is for some) user clear files to organize your stacks. It is much easier to shuffle through a few clear folders instead of a stack of loose papers.

Why miss the opportunity to freshen your office décor by adding an adorable collection of desk accessories? Whether you use tabs or labels, make sure to use clear lettering and bold, legible ink. Don’t overcomplicate it and remember that you can digitize most paper, even if it didn’t come to you electronically. To keep the paper clutter at bay, institute a filing system you can follow, and funnel your incoming papers there regularly. Choose a logical spot to wrangle all your incoming papers, (mail, permission slips, building notices bills, etc.) and create a routine for managing those papers.

Schedule scan-and-purge sessions every week/month to stay organized. Check our recent post on what files you can shred and when, and schedule an annual date to thin out your files accordingly.

Not everyone is passionate about taking piles of unorganized paper and creating attractive, functional filing systems, but to me, few things feel better than comparing what was once the chaos of a client’s paper-logged office to their newly organized, clutter-free and unburdened space. And trust me, a manageable filing system makes the biggest difference, every time.

How often do you deal with your incoming paper? Weekly? Monthly? Never? Do you have a system that works for you? Please share in the comments below your personal paper filing challenges and solutions. If we receive 10 comments on your personal systems, I’ll even post a photo of my personal filing system.

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Certified Professional Organizer®, Scott Roewer is founder of The Organizing Agency, a professional organization and productivity company devoted to teaching residential and business clients how to increase productivity, save money, and how to live a more organized and abundant life.

An award winning company, in 2013, The Organizing Agency was once again awarded the Angie’s List Super Service award, in 2012 the National Association of Professional Organizers recognized Scott with its top honor, the Founders’ Award, and later the same year, the U.S. Air Force commended his volunteerism, naming him Joint Base Andrews “Hometown Hero.” For more information on Scott’s team and how they can help you, contact the office online or call us directly at 202-249-8330.

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