Paper Files: The Three File Phobias

There are three fears people have when it comes to files and piles.

These fears are the three “D”s.

Decisions, If you don’t know what to call papers, you’ll end up calling them nothing. Papers then collect in unnamed stacks and piles and in boxes.

Discards, people are afraid to throw anything away, fearing that they may need it someday. If you haven’t looked at it in 6months it is time to purge.

Disappearance, filing a paper away doesn’t mean out of sight out of mind.  If you have a system in place, then you can find that paper instantly.

Five easy steps to an organized Filing System:

(Most people don’t know where to start)

  1. Categorize any existing files as “active” or “inactive” and pull inactive files from your existing filing system.
  2. Write out your filing system categories and subcategories on paper.
  3. Physically set up the system. Have all supplies on hand as you prepare file labels and purge, consolidate and arrange file folders.
  4. Put the finishing touches on your system. Label drawers and make a file index or chart for yourself and any others who have access to your system.
  5. Maintain your system on a regular basis.

Naming categories and then files is the most critical element to setting up an organized system because it will help in retrieval of information. Write down a major work category from your filing system. Then complete what you think will be the main headings. Select names for headings that make sense to you. As you chart out headings and subheads you’ll start to see which names belong together and which ones need additional subheads. Often one heading and one level of subheads are plenty. Keep your design simple.

Usage of your files not storage-determines how information is categorized. An effective filing system should group information into clear and simple categories that reflect your concerns.  Retrieval of any paper in your office should only take three minutes or less. Incorporate your new files in order right away. Provide a simple consistent method for clearing out obsolete files.

Practical filing tips:

Alphabetize. Filing by date is appropriate for bills and other dated materials.

Articles filed by subject. File magazine or newspaper articles by subject.

Cross-Reference. When a document relates to more than one category, put a post-it note

Easy Access: Add the most recent materials to the front of a folder.

Planned Obsolescence: Whenever possible, mark a discard date on each item, that way your files will be lean and current.

Quick location of vital documents: Keep a list of where your contracts, deeds insurance policies, tax returns and other important business-related papers are.

Segregation of working files. Separate action files, from storage files.  Keep working files in a separate caddy or desktop file rack.


One of the most important aspects of your filing system is location.

The more the files are used, the closer they should be to your desk or main work area., Keep like files together. Group files by subject, type or frequency of use.

Choose appropriate media to store your information. (for example you may want to use notebooks or boxes rather than file folders.)

Maintaining the File system:

When you set up a maintenance system, decide how many minutes a week you will spend on it. Until your system becomes routine decide a day and time for your maintenance and put it into your weekly planner.  The longer you wait to set this up the easier it is for the paper to accumulate again. 

The hardest part of maintaining your filing system is maintaining incentive. You need to believe this is a top priority or you’ll keep putting it off.

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