Paper files – everyone hates them. The best-case scenario is that they cause clutter. More likely, at least one sheet will get damaged or misplaced. We’ve previously written about how you can improve productivity with storage and now many offices are now going fully paperless – giving up physical files in favour of the digital. A good system; it avoids clutter, and has many environmental benefits. But for now, at least, this shift has not been a completely pervasive one. So, if we’re going to be stuck with physical files, we might as well find a good way to organize them. This article will help you improve your filing technique in a tangible, measurable way.

Come up with a simple filing system, and stick to it.

Create a series of categories – invoices, receipts, memos, tax forms, etc. Then create a series of subcategories within those categories. For example, you might organize your invoices by client name. Alphabetical is a classic. Reverse alphabetical provides all the benefits of alphabetical, with a saucy twist. Any way is fine, so long as it makes sense to you – just be sure to stick to whichever system you choose. Having one pile of files organized one way and another pile of files organized another way and another pile not organized at all isn’t really a filing system so much as it is a series of piles.

Disorganized files on a shelf

Pick a good location to work.

Desk with space cleared off

If you work in an office, this’ll probably be your desk, but if you’re doing some larger-scale filing, you might want to find a disused conference table. If you work from home, you might want to use the kitchen table, or somewhere else with a lot of surface real estate. No matter where your work surface is, you should make sure your work surface is clear and clean. You don’t want to irreparably damage some critical files by plopping them on a blob of congealed pork fat.

Use colours liberally.

Different coloured binders, dividers, translucent acetate sheets etc. might seem frivolous, but bright colours can really help distinguish different categories at a glance. Searching through reams of files for one specific thing can get annoying, even if your filing system is perfect. So, while it might not seem like a big difference, the more filing you do, the more you’ll appreciate how a small time saving can add up fast. Again, the most important thing is that it makes sense to you. Plus, we’ve written about how colours can affect your mood before.

Shelves full of different brightly coloured folders

Make sure you have a good filing cabinet.

Three filing cabinets of different size

A cheaply made filing cabinet might work OK at first, but as it takes on more and more of your precious files, you’ll find the drawers will open less smoothly as the inner workings of the cabinet twists and buckles underneath the weight of your precious papers. Picking something that suits your needs and available space is important, too. If you haven’t got much space, I recommend something from our range of pedestals. If you’re in the market for something larger, I recommend looking at our range of filing cabinets.

Make filing into a habit.

I know, I know, filing is terrible, and only deviants and undesirables take pleasure in it. But it’s a necessary evil, and the way to make sure it gets done is to do it regularly. Set a time every week to file away all the new papers that have accumulated. Eventually, it’ll become part of your regular routine. Who knows, you may even begin to cherish the little point of stability in your life that your weekly filing sessions offer you.

Man filing a collection of old documents