Is your filing cabinet a trusted friend or a dreaded foe? Can you quickly put your hands on documents, or do you stack them on top for fear that they will disappear into a black hole if you open one of those drawers? If you want to save time, spend a little time organizing the filing cabinet. Be sure that you block out enough time to do the job well. It might mean a Saturday morning at school where you can work free from distractions, but it is time well spent.

To begin, gather several large garbage bags and reclaim some of the drawer space that has been occupied by papers that have no value. The process of purging your filing cabinet will not only get rid of the unwanted and unneeded, in the process you will undoubtedly run across some real gems you had forgotten you had.

You will also need a generous supply of blank folders on hand. The last thing you want to do is compromise your system simply because you didn’t have enough folders available. I prefer to use manila file folders as opposed to hanging files for general reference filing. Manila folders are much cheaper and take up less room than hanging files. If you want great-looking labels, a Brother labeler is a good investment. Of course, if your penmanship is good, there is certainly nothing wrong with hand labeling the folders.

Scrutinize the system you have for labeling your folders. If you begin labels with nouns, you will find it easier to develop a logical filing system where you can find your documents. Certainly, you can be open to the possibility of using subcategories (Field Trip—Museum, Field Trip—Zoo, etc.). Identify the folders that are too thick and see how they can be subdivided. You will probably find other folders with only a few pieces of paper each that could be combined under one category. If you are in for a major renovation, find a couple of teachers in your building that seem organized and see what sort of system they have developed.

Be sure to leave some room in each drawer. Three-quarters full is plenty. When drawers get tight, you will resist filing like the plague. Classrooms all over America sport stacks of files piled on top of filing cabinets, counters, and every flat surface imaginable—all living proof that overly-stuffed file drawers are no picnic.

Next week, we will look at the companion to organizing your paper filing system—organizing a digital filing system on your computer.