It used to be that paper piles were all that we had to conquer. Now, I’m not minimizing this at all but now paper (as in documents) lurks in piles on the floor as well as invisibly in our computers. It’s important to recognize that filing the invisible documents in your computer is just as important as filing the papers sitting in piles around your desk. The best strategy to use to conquer the tangible papers and the invisible documents is to create a single, simple filing system for yourself.
First, let’s acknowledge that there are very few people who truly like filing paper or documents. I am one and I know Julie Bestry (another professional organizer) is another. I love the challenge of guiding someone through the process to create a filing system that they can not only follow but also maintain.
Second, understand that we are talking about creating a system that you can apply to the tangible paper files as well as the invisible documents lurking in your computer.
Organizing documents is tedious
We all know that organizing piles of paper into files is a tedious process. You must look at every sheet of paper to identify the next step. Ask yourself if the piece of paper can be recycled, shredded, or filed. There may even by some papers that require you take some sort of action, making a phone call, sending an email, or paying a bill.
Sort papers to keep into categories and then into individual folders. There are times when you may want to keep several folders together within a single hanging file. An example of this may be to have a Medical hanging file and then individual manila folders for each medical condition or perhaps by the name of the doctor.
You can follow this same rule when creating digital files and folders of documents stored in your computer.
Most people keep many more papers than they need to in their paper filing cabinets because they put things into the folders without looking to see there is anything to remove.
There are some simple rules to follow to reduce the bulk of what you are keeping.
Apply the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 Rule is the Pareto Principle. Pareto says we only use 20% of that which we keep. You can apply this rule to almost everything you own. This is particularly true of clothes: we wear only 20% of the clothes in our closet and paper. We only look at or reference 20% of the papers we keep.
That means that 80% of the papers in a filing cabinet are never looked at again once they are filed.
If you are following the logic here, then you can reduce the number of papers you are keeping by 80%.
What if I need it again?
People often say I may need that again someday. I have 2 responses to that statement.
- Someday doesn’t exist. Know when you may need to reference the document.
- If you can easily find the information again by looking it up online, shred or recycle the paper.
Use labels that work for you
Use labels that make sense to you. Don’t copy someone else’s filing system because they say it works for them. You are the one who is accessing your files. There is no right way to label files or to organize them.
You can organize your documents alphabetically, numerically (by date), or categorically. Having said that, create a digest to keep in the front of each drawer so if someone else needs to find a document they know where to look.
Important or Vital Documents
Important or vital documents should be kept and saved in several different places. I recommend keeping the originals either in a safe deposit box at the bank or in a secure fire safe box in your home. Make digital copies of your important documents and keep them in a secured cloud application. You can also store them on a jump drive. These places are password protected so remember to write the password somewhere that someone else may be able to access – just in case of an emergency. I also recommend that you give copies of your vital documents to your attorney for safe keeping.
Click here for more information about vital documents.
Remove expired documents
When you file a document look in the folder to see if you are replacing an expired document. If you are, remove and shred that document. Here are some examples:
When you get your updated insurance documents for the year, remove the expired document. When your current year car registration arrives remove the expired registration from the glove box in your car and from the folder in which you keep the car registration.
Some of these folders may be electronic folders. My insurance folder is electronic. I receive my updated insurance information in an email. I download the current information to the insurance folder in my computer. It’s so easy to skip the next step but if you want to eliminate confusion and reduce the bulk of what you keep, it’s an important step to take.
Open the insurance folder and check to see if any of the documents have expired. Delete the expired documents from the insurance folder.
If you keep insurance documents as hardcopies follow the same procedure and remove the expired hardcopies from your insurance file.
The best strategy for filing documents is a simple one. Create a filing system that works for you. Next, plan time to sort through your paper piles. Decide what to keep, recycle, or shred. Then, apply the same system to your digital or electronic files. It’s easy to ignore the files stored in your computer because they are invisible. Avoid problems with your digital files by applying the same filing system to your digital files as your paper files. Then, schedule routine maintenance for both sets of files. If you’d like some accountability as you work on this project, join the Clear Space for You virtual clutter support group. Jonda Beattie and I will guide you as you create a simple filing system for yourself. Click here to read more blogs like this one.
Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer®, a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release●Repurpose●Reorganize, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people affected by ADD, Hoarding, and chronic disorganization. Diane has recently co-authored a book with Jonda Beattie titled: Filled Up and Overflowing