If yours are already organized, congratulations. You benefit every day as you put your hands on exactly the right file in seconds.
If you’re not there, that filing cabinet may be your enemy. You hate to open overstuffed drawers. You have a sinking feeling that you won’t be able to find anything. It’s like a metal version of the Bermuda Triangle. Files go in never to be seen again. If that’s where you are now, read on.
These basic principles will help you get things under control:
- Use manila file folders. While I love hanging files for my Tickler File, they’re not the best choice for reference filing. Manila folders take up much less room in the drawer. They are also less expensive.
- Create one A-Z system. Avoid assigning one topic to this drawer and another topic to that one. Instead use a broad category name for each file with a subcategory underneath.
- Leave breathing room in each drawer. When a drawer gets packed, you’ll avoid wrestling with it. You certainly won’t add to it. Instead, file folders wind up stacked on top of the filing cabinet instead.
- Move infrequently-used files offsite. Some types of records must be maintained permanently even though you never access them. Maintain filing cabinets in another building or remote storage room. Put those seldom-accessed files there. Don’t let those ancient files occupy prime real estate in your office.
- Examine the contents of the files annually. While the system is designed for documents of long-term value, at some point certain material will outlive its usefulness.
Decide what to trash
Get a copy of a relevant records retention schedule.
- For businesses, the Better Business Bureau publishes this one-page guide.
- BMI Imaging publishes this guide with links to state-specific requirements for various fields.
- For Alabama schools, this guide outlines how long to keep everything from lesson plans to excuse notes for student absences.
- Suze Orman offers this one-page guide for personal records.
Armed with your retention schedule and a box of very large trash bags, those filing cabinet drawers may just get more manageable.
For personal home filing, I like the idea behind the Freedom Filer. This video demonstrates how the system works. Here is another example of the Freedom Filer done by popular professional organizer Alejandra Costello. The Freedom Filer ensures that you are regularly throwing away outdated documents as you replace them with current-year copies.
Decide what to digitize
How many owner’s manuals do you have? How many are you still keeping for equipment you discarded years ago? Sites such as Manuals Online allow you to search for a digital version of owner’s manual for the product you just bought. Often, a Google search for the particular product turns up a digital copy of the manual. Create one folder on your hard drive and store all of the digital manuals there.
If you can’t find it…
If you can’t find it, you might as well not have it. Take the time to get rid of what’s taking up valuable space in your filing cabinets. Organize what’s left. Rejoice in being able to file easily and retrieve effortlessly.