Creating a Filing System

Filing systems are important to improve productivity and efficiency. Here are 10 tips to help you get the most out of your work.

As a small business owner or knowledge worker, you need to be able to operate at your desk swiftly and efficiently. Setting a good filing system is critical. Though it may sound difficult, it is a relatively easy task that can be made more accessible by a few filing tips and tricks.

Tools laid out on a table in an orderly way.

1. Planning your workspace layout

Sit at your desk and do a mental sweep of all the information that is on it, the drawers available, the tools and gadgets like staplers, Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) or iPad charging base, telephone, file holder, etc. Think of the best location for where these things. For me, I have the stapler, scissors and extra pens in a drawer. My iPad and my iPhone docking stations are at the back of the desk. I use a laptop, with a second monitor at the centre of my desk, so a lot of smaller items are located at the back of the desk. Because of the way I work, I like my desk to be against a wall. It helps me stay focused on my task. This configuration provides me with a safe place (it won’t fall off the desk) to line up gadgets and equipment. I use very little paper in my business or writing, so I have no need for a lot of space for paper. I have another cabinet in the office that holds files, paper cutter, three holes punch, etc.… However, you need to think of how you work and what you need to have close by.

Everyone will approach this differently, and what works for me may not work for you. Take a few minutes to sit down at your desk and reach for equipment, supplies and files. That exercise will help you establish the ideal spot for each of those items for you personally. Remember, this is your workspace, arrange things to work for you, the way that feels right usually is.

2. Determine the layout of the filing system

Now that you know where you will naturally look for information, you must determine whether an alphabetical, numerical or topical filing system will work best for you.

Do you search for things by client names? The category or topic (i.e., financial, expenses, marketing) or do you have a reference number already in place within your accounting system or contact management software that you can use? Think of how you would naturally look for information. This is a critical step you need to do BEFORE you buy anything for your filing system. It will determine how you will lay out your filing system.

3. Roughly determine your storage needs

Do you have a large number of files you need to access on a daily basis? Do you only access printed data on a weekly basis, or some only at month end when doing accounting? The answer will determine if you need a desktop file holder, a two-drawer filing cabinet under or close to your desk or a four drawer lateral filing cabinet across the room. There are so many options today that you should choose carefully. Allow for growth when looking for a filing cabinet -buy something to accommodate twice the files you think you will have now. This will limit the number of times you have to resort and reorganize your filing system.

If like me, you scan everything and only keep the digital version of it, make sure you have a large enough hard drive and a reliable backup system. I use a ScanSnap i500 and backup to a 3TB portable drive at my desk and keep a copy online as well.

4. Invest in a proper labeller for clarity and easy access.

Being able to skim the file labels sounds obvious, but clarity in labelling will save you more filing time than you can imagine. I recommend a labeller that can print individual labels as it is more flexible and can perform double duty around the office. You can use it to create label identification, one line instructions as well as file labels. I like Dymo products and also use Brother labellers with satisfaction.

5. Purchase File Folders

There are two primary choices for file folders; standard file folders and hanging file folders, with multiple colours for both options. I prefer standard folders in a few colours to match some defined categories like admin, research, clients, marketing, etc. Remember the KISS principle, Keep It Simple Sweetheart!
Broad subject categories will allow you to add new files as you grow quickly, and will eliminate the need to upgrade or reorganize your filing system on a regular basis.

6. Review

Finally, remember to go through your files on a regular basis to clean up, update, flush or maintain your file system.