File That Pile

10 ways to improve your filing system
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the October 2000 issue of Subscribe »

Paper is the chief nemesis of home office professionals; it seems to come in faster than it goes out. The best way to control it is to learn how to deal with it, including how to file it. Filing skills are easy to learn, yet vital to saving time and maintaining productivity. After all, the information in your files is useful only if you can find the papers you need within minutes. Here are several ways to save time when filing:

1. File piles of paper in hanging folders and manila folders. Label the hanging folder with a main category and label the interior manila folders with subcategories. Limit the number of manila folders within each hanging folder to four.
2. If a manila folder topic expands to overflowing, then you need to upgrade it to a hanging folder. Transfer the papers to other manila folders, and place them inside a hanging folder.
3. Use colored labels and tabs to differentiate between various letters of the alphabet or between categories. If you're truly motivated by color, use multicolored hanging and manila folders. You could use green for financial records and red for hot projects, for example.
4. Be consistent about placing all hanging file folder tabs either in the front or back of hanging folders, and stagger the tabs.
5. Use third-cut manila folders as much as possible. Alternate between using manila folders with left, middle and right tabs.
6. Either file your papers alphabetically (ideal for client records), by category, or by number (for years, invoice numbers, etc.). Alphabetize the hanging folders within each category. If you want to keep your filing system simple, keep the categories of files you use most often in the front section of file cabinet drawers. (This is common sense, yet I find many clients don't do this.)
7. Go through your files at least twice each year and purge papers you know you'll never refer to again.
8. Use hanging notebooks as an alternative to hanging and manila folders. A notebook with tabs attached fits in a letter-size file cabinet. Push the tabs in and it becomes a regular notebook.
9. Label your file folders with an electronic labeler or by hand. The labels don't have to be perfect, just legible.
10. Reduce your paper files significantly by using a scanner.

Home office expert Lisa Kanarek is the founder of and the author of Organizing Your Home Office For Successand 101 Home Office Success Secrets.

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