As I promised last week I am going to offer tips and tricks for your filing system. This is how I process my files, however, with that said, I am trying to go as paperless as possible so I’ve trimmed my needs way down. I’m working on a post for that and will offer tips and tricks to get your home or office paperless as well – it’s coming, I promise.
First things first, as with every organizing project, you must sort through existing files and paperwork determining what you have and purging what you no longer need. Consider your needs and what is available online. There is no need to keep a paper with information you can find online – utility bills, phone bills, payments made through online banking, just to name a few. Once you have your files whittled down and other papers that might be lying around the house without a home together you’re ready to create your system.
I have my filing cabinet set up in two organizational strategies, color and categories. The colors help me quickly identify the category and the label on the folder helps me identify exactly what it is. For my personal files I have four general categories: Shared, Sage, Jeff, my husband and Jackson, my step-son. Any purple file is mine, which helps me quickly identify my personal files. Within the shared personal files, all yellow folders, I have items like: Insurance, Warranties, Travel, Household, Pending, Bills, Harry (our dog) and Car. Two things I would like to point out in my shared files: Pending and Bills. Pending means it is actively being worked on and is not complete. This is not a file to stuff things in and forget about them. This is an active file that needs a thorough review once a month on minimum. It can be an effective organizing tool if used properly. Notice I just have a file for bills not individual files for bills. For the paper bills I receive, which are only a few, I only keep the previous month’s bill. When I receive the next month’s I review the information to make sure everything is correct and I either shred the old one or file it with taxes if I can write it off.
My personal files include: bank accounts, canadian residency, personal documents and taxes. The only thing to point out for this is the taxes file is the current year of taxes. I keep information in this file to pass along to my accountant at the end of the year. Once it is filed I keep all previous tax filings in a separate archived folder. I keep my personal files simple and streamlined only keeping the most necessary paperwork.
For my business files I have marketing in green, administration in blue, clients yellow and banking in purple. I am just as lean with my business files as I am with my personal. If I don’t have to keep it on paper I recycle it. I keep my files general as most of the paperwork is used for end of the year taxes. In marketing I have strategy, ideas and reports. In administration I have labeled one file with the current year and any administration paperwork would go into that folder. I also have a POC folder for the trade organization I belong to. My client folders have shrunk over the years as I have started keeping electronic files of client appointments and interactions. In the purple banking folders, again I have them labeled by year and any banking receipts or statements go into this folder. I also keep an accordion folder with receipts for tax purposes sorted by month. I don’t think the sorting by month is necessary, but it makes me feel better.
As a general rule when considering categories and file names keep it simple. Go for broad categories that are easy to remember and only keep the most necessary information. If it can be found online get rid of it.
I found a few sites with good info about what paperwork you need to keep and what can go. Check these out for general guidelines, but check with your accountant for your specific needs before starting. Purge Paper Clutter, Managing Household Records and How Long to Keep Documents.
Ok, now that you have your guidelines on what to keep and what can go it’s time to start purging those files! Be ruthless. Paper is a monster and quickly multiplies so don’t hold back.
Once you have your paperwork purged and your categories selected you’re ready to set up the filing cabinet. The supplies you need are hanging folders, filing folders in different colors and file labels. Use one hanging folder per file. Even if you think there is room for more than one file. It will prevent files from sticking together and give you room to grow without reorganizing the whole cabinet. Give each general category a different color folder. If you have to reuse colors try to keep them out of the same drawer to ease confusion.
Once your system is set up test it. Live with it for a few weeks and see how it functions. The most important thing is that you use it. You actually open it up and file things. I keep a weeks worth of filing in a basket. I add to it as mail comes in, receipts are generated or general paperwork needs to be filed. Every Thursday evening I pull the basket out and file everything away. The filing system will only work if you work with it. Now, last step, open up your calendar and schedule an appointment with yourself in six months to purge your files again. The good news is it will be a quick process because you just did all of the hard work. Also don’t be afraid to add folders as you need them. Tame that crazy paper monster that creeps into your house and get a good filing system working for you!
I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. Leave your file success stories or questions in the comments below.