One of the biggest reasons our offices tend to get into chaos is because we simply don’t know what to do with half the stuff that comes into our lives. If we don’t know what to do with it, we tend to put it down somewhere to deal with “later”. The inevitable result is piles of unsorted paper and a backlog of work.
One of the most important ways of ensuring that we know what to do with things is to have a filing system that is both easy to operate and completely up to date. Unfortunately most people, particularly in small businesses, try to work with filing systems that don’t properly support them. Remember: we will always tend to follow the path of least resistance. If our filing system is difficult and cumbersome to use then we will tend to avoid using it, which will then make it out of date as well - thus increasing the problem further. On the other hand if our filing system is fast, instinctive and up to date, it becomes easier to use it than not to use it. The good news is that you can have a fast, instinctive and up to date filing system fully operational by tomorrow. Here’s how.
The first step is to go out and buy plenty of lever arch files and clear enough space for them on a bookshelf. Forget about folders, ring binders, suspension files and all the rest. Lever arch files on a book shelf are the best way of filing. They stand upright, don’t fall over, can be moved around easily and it’s simple to insert and remove papers from them. What’s more you can use dividers to subdivide the contents. For things you don’t want to punch holes in, you can put them in a plastic envelope and file the plastic envelope. For very small items such as till receipts I staple them to a larger sheet of paper and file the sheet of paper. For those of you who don’t know what a lever-arch file is, here’s a picture.
How do you get a totally up to date filing system right now? It’s easy. Declare your old filing system dead and start completely afresh, opening new files as you need them. Every time you get a new piece of paper open a new file for it or put it into one of the new files you have already opened. Work the files in the way I suggested in a previous newsletter by putting the files as you use them at the top left hand end of the bookcase. With lever arch files it’s easy to move the files along to accommodate this. Doing it this way you will have a completely fresh and relevant filing system, where you can always lay your hands on the papers you use most often.