Got Paperwork? Managing Your Active Files

Published Tuesday, May 01, 2012 8:52 PM

Paper may be going the way of the dinosaur for some-witness the U.S. Government's recent announcement that its 73 million annual social security payments will now be issued electronically instead of by paper check-but for many, paper is still king.

Numerous jobs, and countless homes, require juggling multiple sheaves of paper on a daily basis. Parents of school-age children can attest that staying on top of paperwork is a daily battle. And for small-to-mid-sized businesses, physical paperwork often trumps its digital counterpart. Heck, some people just prefer paper.

Regardless of why your desk is awash in paperwork, we're here to help with advice on keeping your active files manageable and easy to use. No full-to-bursting files here. Just simple, streamlined functionality.

Begin With a Decluttering

Managing active files requires both an initial purge and the creation of a general filing system. Take a good look at your desk; too many people allow their desks to become a sort of three-dimensional to-do list, keeping papers on hand to act as a reminder of what needs to get done, rather than properly  sorting and storing them. Eventually the paper piles up, and rather than serving as a reminder, the clutter instead acts as a distraction and in worse cases, an impediment to productivity.

So purge the trash, create a running to-do list, deep-sixing paperwork once the action item is safely on the list, and create a set of active files sorted by whatever system makes sense to you (i.e. by date, by project, alphabetically, etc.). Incidentally, most people find alphabetical organizing the easiest system to remember.

Tools for Success

Having files quickly and readily at hand is crucial for daily maintenance. So keep files at your fingertips with either wall-mounted pocket racks or with an expandable desk-top file organizer. Likewise, labeling files is key: keep a stack of labels on hand and consider investing in erasable file labels or a label-maker for greater ease. Set up a system for corralling individual papers that don't belong grouped in files, by using a bulletin board or even a magnetic strip.   

Staying Organized

Once you have a system up and running, commit to maintaining it. Just as it's easier to keep weight off than to lose 15 pounds, finding the energy for a soup-to-nuts reorganization is far harder than finding 10 minutes a day to keep order.

Maintain organization by using a desk tray for temporary files needed that day, but stow all other papers in files. At the day's end, move paper to its proper storage spot.

Keep in mind that shredding, recycling and moving temporary files into archival files, needs to happen regularly. Mark off at least 10 minutes a day for maintaining order and schedule a slightly longer period once a week for a more through onceover. Remember, your main objective is keeping the clutter of inactive files out of your active pile. Simple, streamlined, and functional are the hallmarks of a productive filing system. Happy filing!

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