Get Organized!

Paper Chase
These simple tips will straighten out your loose-leaf lifestyle.

Technology has changed the way we work, but no matter how much technology advances, paper is here to stay. Here are some easy tips for improving the way your company files. Training employees on these tactics will keep your files in tip-top shape.

  • Use hanging folders. Label each hanging folder with a main category and place interior (or manila) folders, broken down into subcategories, inside. Hanging folder tabs should be staggered so they're easy to see; do the same with the interior folders.
  • Keep interior folders to a minimum. Each hanging folder should have no more than four or five interior folders. If an interior folder has more than 20 pieces of paper in it, divide the papers into separate interior folders within the hanging folder.
  • Use color. Colorful hanging folders, interior folders and tabs make it easy for your staff to differentiate between file categories. Financial records could be labeled in green, hot projects in red and marketing projects in blue.
  • Make organization a priority. Files and notebooks are useful if they can be located easily. Have employees store current files (those used at least weekly), reference files (those accessed only occasionally) and historical files (tax-related or legal documents which are referred to rarely) separate. Current files should be located inside an employee's desk file drawer or next to his or her desk, while reference files can be stored nearby in file cabinets. Historical files should be removed from file cabinets to make room for reference files; store historical files in sturdy boxes all in one place, labeled by year and contents.
  • Know what to toss and what to keep. It's easier to keep papers than to decide what to do with them. As you and your employees go through your files and purge unnecessary papers, ask a few questions: Will you refer to this piece of paper again? Do you have a place to file it? If you tossed the paper and needed to refer to it again, would it be difficult to replace?

If you answer no to the above questions, toss the paper in the recycling bin. Small steps like these will make it easier for you to find the information you need--when you need it.

Priority: Mail
Reinvigorate your inbox--and the way you e-mail.

E-mail is great for communicating with others, but it can quickly spin out of control if you neglect to organize all those messages.

The first step to managing e-mail is developing a system for reading, responding to and storing e-mail messages electronically. Set up electronic file folders to store e-mail messages worth keeping, and label the folders clearly. Treat the electronic folders the same as paper files, and regularly purge documents you don't need to refer to again.

Managing incoming e-mails is easier if you install a good spam filter. Investing in an effective filter will pay off in reduced time spent deleting junk e-mail.

Make it easier to distinguish important e-mails from general ones by setting your e-mail to flag messages from clients and other key contacts. Some programs will alert you when designated contacts send messages.

The key advantage to e-mail is the ability to communicate with someone immediately, day or night. Avoid the urge, however, to check your e-mail every few minutes (unless, of course, you're waiting for an important message). Checking your e-mail a few times each hour can help you stay focused on other tasks.

Home-office expert Lisa Kanarek is the author of Home Office Solutions and the founder of HomeOfficeLife.com, a firm that advises corporations and individuals on all aspects of working from home.
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Brother home office expert Lisa Kanarek advises corporations and individuals on all aspects of working from home and writes the blog Working Naked. She is the author of several books, including Working Naked: A guide to the bare essentials of home office life.

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This article was originally published in the June 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get Organized!.

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