Don’t Get Stuck in Your Filing System

I realized recently that the way I was organizing my business paperwork was not working. How did I realize this, you ask? Well, I was dumping all the papers I needed to keep into a bin and ignoring it. Not good. At least I was keeping the papers all together, and when I needed to find something, I knew where to look.

As you have probably guessed, I have embarked on the task of setting up a better system for myself.

There are many aspects to setting up a filing system as well as choices to make about the organization of it. For myself, I have always preferred handing folders with broad categories, with ordinary file folders sitting within the hanging folders. Sticking with what I know and know that I like, I began sorting my business papers.

The problem arose when I found myself getting frustrated with the broad category names I should give. Interestingly, on the NAPO member listserv recently there was a discussion on creative file names. This was fascinating to me as I have always been quite perfunctory with my filing labels. Yet I see the value of funny and silly names – it can be a way to make the dreaded filing more interesting, even bringing a smile when the names are personal to you. As Kate Varness of Green Light Organizing wrote, “The more a title makes her smile, laugh, or look aghast, the better she will remember it and the less she will dread it.”

There were interesting ideas shared on the forum and one was to call a file “Toupee” instead of the more typical “To Pay.” Now I do not even have such a file name, yet if someone uses this, the more creative name is undeniably more fun and silly. It can lessen the sinking feeling of pulling out the contents and sitting down to deal with it. Another idea was “Stuff I look for but can never find” and how great a file name if the contents do not fit somewhere else logically or easily.

Now, back to my recent filing dilemma. The whole point of broad categories is that there are several file folders within each, and this helps narrow down where things can go. Yet, with my business papers, I am finding that I do not have that many files. This makes broad categories seem cumbersome. Also, there are some papers that feel like they could fit into more than one broad category.

When helping clients with their filing, I advocate that the system meet their needs and function in a way that makes sense to them. I thought I knew what was best for me. I was wrong! It brings the point home that different things can require different approaches and how we need to always be open for revisions.

The files that I established years ago still work well for me. I know where things go and everything is logical for me. The business files are not even going to live in the filing cabinets. Instead, I decided I wanted to use an old file bin I had handy. I realized that if I was to put them in the filing cabinet, I would have probably just labeled a hanging folder “Business” and put all the files within that category.

My thinking needed to shift a little and I needed to reject the idea that I had to do things for my business papers in the same way I have done my other files. I have so much on the computer anyway that is well organized and the papers for my business are minimal. In addition, it is easy to create hanging file labels at a later point if it becomes necessary.

There are so many different ways to set up your filing system, from the everything is simply alphabetical to having hanging folders and file folders within them. Some people put the most recent item in front while others put them in the back. I’ve known people who have not even used files, but instead, used manila envelopes or accordion folders. There is no right way to handle your papers.

However you choose to organize things, it needs to make sense to you. You need to be able to put things away and even more importantly be able to find them. As I recently discovered, you also need to continue to be flexible, even when you think you know how you like things organized!

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