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How to Organize Files for Maximum Productivity in 4 Easy Steps

Taking the time to organize files makes finding and accessing documents painless.  Usually, filing is one of the most procrastinated and daunting jobs in the office.   It is easy to let it stack up on your desk, floor, credenza and filing cabinets.  I find with many of my clients it starts to take over the office.  The key to keeping paper clutter under control is to make filing easy and accessible.  Files that are overstuffed, complicated and out of reach tend to be avoided.  So, the paper piles up on the desk, floor and other surfaces.  I always recommend going paperless when possible.  Keeping documents electronically saves trees, space and time.  However If paper is still very much a part of your life and going digital is not an option, I recommend following these 4 steps:

  1.  Categorize – Put your documents and files into categories that make sense to you and others who need to reference them.  Depending on your work or job function, some of your categories may be by project.  Everyone’s categories will look different depending on their business or job role. At home, the categories, will be similar to the following:
    1. Home Mortgage
    2. Home Services
    3. Home Insurance
    4. Automobiles – A separate folder for each car.
    5. Auto Insurance
    6. Medical – One folder for each member of your family (including pets)
    7. Dental – One folder for each member of your family
    8. Taxes – One folder for each year including the current year to hold donations given throughout the year.
    9. Family members – One file for each family member to collect school information and other important documents.
    10. Bank accounts and financial accounts – Only information that cannot be accessed online should be kept.
    11. Product/Appliance warranties and manuals. – Only information that cannot be accessed online should be kept.
  2. Cleanse – Decide what your can shred or recycle based on your current needs.  For information about what to keep you can reference my Document and Record Keeping Guidelines.  —Purge your files as you are going through them. Toss what you no longer need as you see it!
  3. Configure your files according to file type.  The files you access the most should be kept closest to your chair.  Files that are needed less frequently can be stored across the room or down the hall.  It may help you to determine what is a Action, Working or Reference file.  Action files are tasks that require action, and these files will be located on your desk or in a in box.  Usually, they are kept in sight.  An example of an Action file is “Bills to Pay”.  A Working file should be kept in the drawers accessible from your desk chair.  These files are used or accessed frequently.  An example of a working file could be projects you are currently working on.  Reference files are ones you only need refer to occasionally.  An example of a reference file is old tax files or old contracts.  If you have a home office, your business files should be kept separate from your personal files.  You can separate business and personal files by using two different sides of the same drawer or different drawers in the same cabinet.

organize files

Label your folders with the categories you outlined in step one.  Make sure each category has a hanging file and manila folder to make them easier to read and access.  Remember, the easier you make it to file the more likely you are to file.  Use colored files and tabs if this makes it more appealing or easier for you.

4.  —Continue – Keep your filing system up to date by purging the items you no longer need on a regular basis.  Purge the items you no longer need as they are replaced.  For example, you can get rid of old auto and home insurance paperwork when you receive your new policy.  (As long as you don’t have any open claims).

———More quick filing tips:  

  • —Keep new file folders accessible to your desk. This will make creating new files easier.
  • —Magazine holders are great for grouping publications, brochures, and newsletters by category
  • —Use a step rack for holding your action files.
  • ——Label all of your hanging files and regular files with the same title.

Using this format to organize files gives you an easy to use format to decide what goes where in your workspace.  It also makes the items that we use more often more accessible which makes you more productive and efficient.  To make this process a little easier and less daunting, start on one file or drawer at time.


Sara Genrich is an office organizing specialist.  We can help you set up an efficient filing system and workflow in your office.  Please call us for a free consultation at 972-365-0255.  —


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