How you choose to organize your office files has an important impact on efficiency and productivity. A filing system should be based on how files are used in the office, what features of the file are most often referred to and how files are verbally requested. Answering these questions will help you determine the best system for organizing your files.
Determine whether you will organize files alphabetically by subject, numerically using a predetermined numbering system or chronologically by either date created or due date. Create temporary and permanent files. Temporary files are currently active files that have an end date assigned at which time the file can either be destroyed or placed with archived files. Examples of temporary files include current projects, action items and materials to be read. Permanent files are those not accessed as often but need to be kept in the archives for future reference.
Write down your label titles and definitions in a document that can be referenced. For example, if you use a numerical filing system, write down the subject each number corresponds to and list examples of documents that would be included within that subject. This helps maintain consistency when filing documents.
Create piles for temporary documents, permanent documents and trash. Sort documents before including them in the filing system. Do not file what does not need to be saved.
Choose a file storage location. You might decide that temporary active files need to be filed in your desk drawer where they are easily accessible. Files shared amongst staff should be centrally located in the office. If you work with files that need to be protected, such as files containing clients' personal information, use a locking file cabinet and determine who in the office will have access.
Create your files. Label files with your alphabetic, numeric or chronological system. Remember that while you want to be specific with your label titles, you also want the titles to be broad enough to encompass several types of documents. For example, rather than labeling a file with a specific meeting name create a file for meetings attended in a year and store all relevant documents in it. This keeps you from creating numerous files in which only one or two documents will ever be stored.
Remember simple is always better. Try to avoid complicated filing systems that will be difficult for you and staff to remember. Use a tickler file for date specific tasks such as bill paying or invoicing. Organize your tickler file by month or day depending on the tasks and purge the file as tasks are completed by either throwing documents away or moving them into a permanent file.
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