Why filing systems don’t work:
• You are trying to adapt someone else’s system.
• You have set up a very complex system (maybe color coded and too many small categories).
• Your file cabinet is not in a convenient location.
• You are trying to keep too much to start with (records versus references).
• You have not set up time on a regular basis to manage and maintain the paper flow in your life/office/business.
Here are some tips to set up a file system that you will use:
• Begin by sorting your piles into categories. You will begin to see a pattern.
• Decide on a way to categorize and label your files. There are several great books/resources out there that have suggestions for categories. Some include: household, personal, financial, auto, legal, health/medical and business.
• Use nouns to name your files and use the ones that you first think of when you pick up the piece of paper you are going to file. Using broader categories might make it easier as well. For example: Health/Medical: Bob, Health/Medical: Sue, etc. I can tell you from experience that more of my own papers got filed when I converted to broader categories….prior to that there were just too many files to go through and I never could decide where I should put the paper I was filing.
• Use prime space to keep your current project files, frequently consulted files and tickler file such as your desk file drawer and locate other active files in close proximity to your desk. Limit these active files to two or three drawers only. Long-term storage files can be archived to an appropriate storage container in a space outside the office such as the basement.
Next you need to have a system in place to keep paper flowing in your life. You will need to schedule project and maintenance time. Project time includes setting up or updating your system and may take multiple sessions. Maintenance time includes regular (weekly filing sessions at a minimum) as well as periodic purging sessions.
And remember for your piles to become files you need a system and also the habit of avoiding the urge to keep everything.