Monday, September 3, 2012

Turning Piles into Files

Are you searching for an organized office?  Then, the best thing you can do for yourself is schedule the time to clear the "To File" box and all those piles that have accumulated on your desktop, counters, chairs and floor.  If you want organization, you will need to get rid of the piles and break the habit of piling.  The secret is developing a filing system that works for you. 
Schedule some serious time in your dayplanner, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.  This is a good time to get those files in order, purge the unnecessary and archive those that you absolutely must keep, but rarely use.  Current, active files are for those items that you need to run your home or business for the fiscal year.  These files are accessed frequently and need to be in an order that makes sense to you.  The archival files include those items that you need or want to keep but are not accessed frequently.  These may include past year's tax forms and documentation, old love letters and personal correspondence that you cannot part with, children's art projects or research for your book. 
As you progress through your organizing project, be on the lookout for excess papers that are cluttering your files.  Toss or archive the old ones to make room for the current influx.  Box, label and store the archives in the attic, basement, garage or off-site.  Do not get caught in the trap of keeping papers "just in case."  Consult your attorney or accountant to find out what you personally need to keep and what you can safely toss.  
Here are some simple filing rules that may make it easier to determine where to put your papers:
1.  Separate personal and business files.  If you have a home-based business or bring work home from an outside office, be very careful to keep everything separate.  Set up specific zones or boundaries for each type of paperwork that enters your office.  Color coding separate files makes it easy to visually identify where a particular file belongs.
2.  Establish a labeling system that works for you.  There is no law that says it has to be alphabetical. You can use broad categories and subcategories, color-coded files, numerical files, 3-ring binders, cubbyholes or desktop files.   Whatever works best for you is the right thing to do. Just remember to label, label, label.
3.  When you first set up a filing system, use post-it notes for labels until you are comfortable with the order you have placed things.  It is much easier to tear off a sticky note than retype labels.  First set up the system, live with it for a while, and then type the labels.  Typed labels are neater and easier to read and worth the investment of time.  Use a label maker or learn how to use labeling software installed on most computers.
4.  Toss those prefabricated labels and concentrate on your own words.  Label files according to how you think.  You do not need to use nouns. Verbs and even full sentences may work better.  My favorite filing job was with my mother who wanted to keep some papers that were not specific to anything.  Of course, I posed the big question, "Why?"  Her response was that they were things she liked.  We set up a file labeled "Things I like" and she is happy.  She now has a place to put those trivial papers without cluttering her desktop.
Why get organized?  Paper has become the biggest source of clutter - junk mail, emails, correspondence, and website surfing.  Most of us prefer to read information on paper rather than the computer screen, so we print and print and print some more.  With the information highway spewing forth tons of data, the printers keep spewing forth tons of printed material even though statistics show that we use only 20% of the papers we keep.
It is time to wage war on the paper influx by learning to make wise choices.  Take a good look at everything piling up on your desk or countertops.  Is the information still relevant?  Is the information available somewhere else?  Toss papers that can be replicated or unimportant.   Clutter is simply the by-product of indecision.  Make the decision to purge!
Email is a major form of paper clutter as more households obtain computers.  Printed emails pile high around the computer with the good intentions of reading them someday.  Decide what action to take on the document while it is still in the computer inbox - act on it or delete it.  Be careful not to overload the inbox.  This, too, can become a source of clutter. 
When you take time to establish an effective way to handle incoming papers, you can win the battle of the piles. 

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