Many business offices are leaning towards being paperless. We live in a digital age, but hardcopies of important documents are still required. An efficient filing system is still very important for every office. Struggling to get your office filing under control?  Follow these easy guidelines to become a filing master.

7 quick steps to developing an efficient filing system

1.Choose a categorisation system
Divide your files into a few broad categories. These could be things like finances, clients, stock reports, meeting minutes, staff details, and so on.


2.Create relevant subcategories
Once you have these broad categories, subcategorise. For example, in the category ‘Clients’, make subcategories for all your clients. If you serve clients in different sectors, your first level of subcategories could be ‘South African clients’ and ‘Namibian clients’, and then the individual client folders filed under those.


3.Choose a filing order
Decide how best to organise your categories. This could be in alphabetical order, chronological order, or ordered according to key subjects or categories. Choose the order that is most accessible and relevant to the type of work you do.
To help distinguish between categories or subcategories, you can also use colour coding to order them.


4.Use hanging folders in filing cabinets
Invest in good quality filing cabinets, and insert hanging folders in each drawer.


5.Keep your documents in envelopes that go into the hanging folders
Place each file or sub-folder into a large envelope, such as a manila envelope, and insert each into a hanging folder. This way you can remove the envelope without losing the hanging folders place in the drawer.


6.Label everything
Label each envelope and its corresponding hanging folder the same to avoid confusion. Make sure each file, folder, category and divider is labelled with a concise, relevant and informative title.


7.Implement a stock card system
For large offices where many people access the files, set up a colour-coded stock card system. For example, if John is coded blue, he will place a blue card in the slot where has just removed a file. If you need that file, you can easily find John instead of searching the whole office.


Guidelines for better filing practices

  • Be consistent with your categories
    Once you’ve chosen your categories and filing order, make sure you stick to it. If you have a file that doesn’t quite fit into any of your categories, create a new category instead of sticking it somewhere obscure.
  • Keep your categories and sub-categories relevant
    Choose the most relevant categories and file accordingly. If your office doesn’t handle any of the financial work, for example, there is no need for a ‘Finance’ folder. Likewise, don’t spread one client’s files between different categories like ‘client orders’, ‘client details’, ‘past clients’, ‘client billing’, and so on, unless it is more convenient for the kind of work you do.
  • Follow a regular filing schedule
    A strict filing schedule is essential. Stacks of paper can build up quickly and make it harder to find important documents at short notice. As well as filing everything promptly, make sure files are returned to their folders and cabinets as soon as you’re no longer using them. It is helpful to designate a specific time of the day for all your filing. Alternatively, file things throughout the day as you receive or finish them.
  • Separate current work from completed or archived work
    There is no point having to flip through five years of past work to find a current file. Designate a separate filing cabinet for archived work, or separate completed files from current through categories or different folders.
  • Review your files annually or bi-annually
    Files become outdated and less relevant. At the end of the year, or after a major change, sort through your filing and remove the ‘dead’ files. These can either go into the archives if you have enough space, or thrown out if they are no longer relevant.
    There may be files in your previous year’s folders that are relevant to current work that you’re doing. To avoid having these files get forgotten or ‘lost in the system’, transfer them to your current folders for easy access.
  • Digital back-ups
    Make digital copies of all the most important files, or alternatively store them in duplicate or triplicate. If space is an issue in your office, consider converting most of your filing system to digital; this will save space as well as paper and waste.

What not to do

Try not to hoard unimportant files and overfill each drawer, section or folder. Avoid using paperclips (staples are better) and too many categories or longwinded filing systems.

Efficient filing is not difficult, but it does require a certain amount of effort and maintenance, especially when first starting out. It quickly becomes habit though, and once it does, your work life becomes so much more convenient.

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