Organizing your files

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Organizing Your Files
We’re supposed to live in a paperless society, but you’d never know it from the piles of documents that float around the average office! It can be a real challenge to stay on top of the paper trail. In addition, we often have many electronic files that we need to keep of, too.
In this lesson, we will share some simple, basic principles that can help you store any type of information efficiently. We will also share a simple paper filing system and tips for electronic filing. To wrap up the session, we’ll talk about extending your organizational system to your briefcase.
Sorting Based on File Type
The key principles of retrieval are:

  • Group similar things together
  • Place them in their own space or container
  • Label them clearly

File Categories
There are some additional steps we can take depending on what kind of files you are trying to organize. We can usually divide our files into four categories.
Working Files
These include your current projects, routine functions, and quick references. These are the files where you have 80% of your work. These should be within arm’s reach. They usually contain the following:

  • The projects you are currently working on. This file should be cleaned occasionally to move projects to a reference file or to eliminate duplication.
  • Fingertip information you need on a routine or daily basis, such as phone lists, client addresses, and computer codes.
  • A follow-up file for each person with whom you come in contact on a regular basis, where you keep track of all correspondence with that person.
  • A file for routine functions such as sales reports or other functions performed daily/weekly/monthly.

Since these files should be within reach, they might be in a large desk drawer. Make certain they are in file folders, labeled in large letters, and then placed in hanging file folders that are also labeled.
Usually it is more efficient to label hanging folders by category, rather than by a letter of the alphabet. Then categories can be alphabetized or color-coded.
Reference Files
These are files you must refer to frequently as you work on current projects. This is where the bulk of your files will be located. Since you use these files regularly, they need to be kept handy, but not necessarily within arm’s length. The most important thing is to arrange all information in such a way that you can pull information out of the file easily.
Key questions for you to consider as this file is set up:

  • What do I want to keep?
  • What do I need to keep?
  • If I wanted this information, could I find it elsewhere?
  • Information that should be in the reference file includes:
  • Research for future projects
  • Past projects to which the client refers

It can be helpful to consider key functions or components of your job, and make these the major categories for reference files. Other files might include:

  • Sponsor files
  • Administrative information

Cull all duplicates or useless paper. Have a recycling bin and shredding container nearby.
Establish subject categories, and label both file folders and hanging files. Put the file structure on paper prior to starting the filing.
Label file drawers and create a master list of files if the amount of information is large. Remember to use large, clear print with a fine tip felt marker.
Archive Files
These are the files nobody looks at. You keep them because the law says you must, because you are afraid you’ll need them if they are thrown out, or because nobody wants to take the time to do anything about them. They should be kept in a designated location far from your work area.
Disaster Files
This is one file that contains all vital information, including identification and financial references, in case you have to vacate the office unexpectedly. You can also have a file like this at home so you have things organized in the event of a disaster.
Electronic Files
The key rule is that the file structure used in paper files and electronic files should parallel each other so that you can find things quickly. Use keywords and search programs to help you find your files even faster. If you are not sure how to use keywords, the “help” section of your software program should be able to show you how.
In this information age, we have to know what we need to keep and what we don’t need to keep. Don’t keep what you don’t need. Don’t ask, “Will I ever need this?” The answer is almost sure to be “Maybe.” Ask instead, “Where could I get this if I needed it?


  • Your briefcase should be organized with:
  • Tools that are needed frequently when away from the office
  • Reference files that are frequently referred to, such as telephone lists
  • Working files that are needed
  • A system for expenses

The Batching Technique
The balance to the “do it now” approach is batching. With this technique, you save several of the same type of things to do at once. Sometimes that is a more effective technique than doing each thing singly.
We can even batch our interactions with others. Do you ever remember what you wanted to ask someone or tell someone just after they walked out of your office or you hung up the phone? You might save quite a bit of time by having a file for each of the people you interact with often.
Here are some examples:
Word processing files: Batched and placed in categories. Develop a tree of directories and subdirectories, using the same categories as in the paper filing system.
E-mail messages: Again, create directories and save only those messages that will be referred to again. Delete e-mails that you will not need again. (If that panics you, move them to an archive file.)
Voice mail: Listen to your voice mail message. Does it do a good job of telling the person at the other end of the line what he/she should do? Try keeping a list of all the people you need to call, and make those calls all at once.