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Creating A Filing System

Your file cabinet is the core of your paper management system — it can make or break all your other good efforts to get organized. How do your files measure up? Can you find any document in seconds? If not, try this customizable and entirely scalable system for personal or business files.

Begin With The Right Equipment

Checkmark-Iconfind a good filing cabinet

Xmark-Iconcheck to see how easily the drawers slide when full

Checkmark-Iconmake sure there are rails for supporting hanging files

Xmark-Iconmore flexibility if drawers can hold letter and legal files

Checkmark-Iconlateral file drawers hold paper more efficiently

Xmark-Iconif you prefer open storage use file crates on book shelves

Check Your Stash Of Supplies

Checkmark-Iconhanging file folders — letter or legal

Xmark-Iconmanila interior file folders– letter or legal

Checkmark-Icon1/5 cut plastic tabs for hanging files

Xmark-Iconadhesive labels or label maker for manila folders

Dividing Your Papers Into Categories

Checkmark-Icontake any pile of papers — start sorting it into broad filing categories

Xmark-Iconex: “financial paperwork” or “car” or “insurance”

Checkmark-Iconthen divide each large category into smaller subcategories

Xmark-Iconex: within “insurance” would be “car”, “homeowners”, “medical”, etc.

Labeling Is Key

Checkmark-Iconyou want your file labels to uniquely express how you view your files

Xmark-Iconbut your labels also need to make sense so no one has to guess what is stored where

Checkmark-Iconstart with a noun rather than an adjective — not “past clients” but “clients: past”

Xmark-Iconmove from general (“clients”) to specific (“past”)

Checkmark-Iconfiles with the same prefix will be together alphabetically in the drawer

Xmark-Icontry to avoid vague and nebulous categories like “miscellaneous” or “other”

Checkmark-Icon99% of the time, you can think of a specific category that encompasses that document

The Value Of Color Coding

Xmark-Iconuse a different color folder or tab for each section of files

Checkmark-Iconex: all “financial” folders are green or have a green label

Xmark-Iconcolor-coding makes it easier to find the file you need quickly

Checkmark-Iconrun down the row of major categories until you find the right one

Xmark-Iconex: if hunting your Visa bill, you would look for “credit cards” or “finances”

Checkmark-Iconthen slide over to the appropriate color-coded subcategories

Xmark-Iconmake things even easier with a file index that lists categories in alphabetical order

Checkmark-Iconcolor-coding makes it easier to put folders back in the right place — find the right color section

You Can’t Stop Here

Xmark-Iconremember that your filing system is dynamic and ever-changing

Checkmark-Iconas interests and responsibilities change, so should your filing system

Xmark-Icondon’t be afraid to abandon a category if you don’t use it anymore

Checkmark-Icondon’t hesitate to add a new category if you need it

Xmark-Iconconsolidate folders that seem to go together under one larger heading

Checkmark-Iconsplit categories up into smaller pieces if your folders get too stuffed

Xmark-Iconset aside time once a year to purge obsolete information from your files

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Copyright 2009 RamonaCreel.com

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.

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2 Responses

  1. Jeanne says:

    What filing products do you use?

  2. Ramona says:

    I like Smead products — plain old hanging files for thinner categories, box bottoms for thicker ones, 1/5 clear tabs for main category labels, 1/5 colored tabs for subcategory labels, and (used very sparingly) manila interior files for any internal subdividing.

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