Filing, it’s the one thing that can bring many of us out in a cold sweat! We all hate feeling disorganised, especially when it comes to our filing system. Equally, we want to feel that we have everything under control and know where everything is, so we can easily have it to hand when needed. 

A good filing system also helps us be more productive. We can waste so much time looking for mislaid items. Having a good filing system in place is essential if you want to be more in control of your office and your productivity. So, whether you’re looking to get your paperwork organised, are aiming for a paperless environment, or just need to be more in control over your online and offline filing systems – here are some tips to help. 

Know your storage options and requirements

Start by knowing what options are available to you and what you legally need to do. There are some requirements that are out of your control and need to be factored into how you organise and store information. For example, there’s the storage of personal data to consider (as per the Data Protection Act and ICO regulations), as well as a requirement to store secure information (such as passwords, login information etc). These stipulate that you need to be using lockable filing drawers and password protecting your phone.

The tax office and HMRC also have requirements on what you must keep. Most of their documentation needs to be kept for at least 6 years (such as tax and HMRC paperwork), as does your bank and credit card statements, accounts, dividend paperwork, invoices and receipts and contracts.

Choose easy to use systems

The good news is there are options available to make this easier. Not everything needs to be kept as physical paperwork. If you receive PDF or emailed documents, they can often stay as digital copies. There are also password management systems such as Dashlane or LastPass, that can help you keep password and login information secure. Sync services such as Dropbox and Google Drive are great if you work from several locations or devices. They help you to easily access the documents you need, when and where you need them.

As for your on and offline filing systems, go with whatever works for you. For many of us, that can be filing by alphabetical, chronological, or subject matter. Coloured tabs and files may make the job easier for you, but ensure you’re using them because they help – not because they look pretty or colour coordinate with your office. You need something that does the job well, not something that just looks really pretty. Whatever system you use, ensure you’re keeping it quick and easy – don’t create millions of folders, to suit every possible filing situation.

Use templates and automation

Your filing system does need to be easy to use, so you can quickly find what you need – but it also needs to be replicable. And that’s where templates and automation come into their own.

Setting up templates allows you to only gather the information you need for a specific task. This means less unwanted extras for you to accumulate and worry about storing. You can also use automated organisation tools to automate your filing. For example, you could set up an email rule to always file emails from a certain person into a specific folder, or to save scanned documents to a specific folder. 

Email Accounts

This deserves a special mention because so many people let their email filing system get out of control! Take the time to set up a hierarchy of folders to match your on and offline filing systems. If you file client data in one filing drawer and then subdivide them my client surname – do the same with your email folders.

Make it a rule to always try and have a clear inbox. This not only helps you see new emails when they come in, but it also makes you feel less stressed whenever you open your email account! And always set your email to empty the junk, spam and bin folders, every time you log out, to save you using up your storage on unwanted emails.

Commit to regular filing system maintenance

No matter what your system, it’s important that you regularly follow and maintain it.  Have a set routine in place, where you do one of three things with every piece of paper you hold – you either shred, file, or action it. Actioning it can mean dealing with it immediately (if it can be completed in a couple of minutes), or putting it on a to-do list or scheduling it into your calendar (for those tasks that are bigger and need breaking down or those that are going to take time to complete). 

Make it a rule to keep your desk paper-free and your laptop desktop free of files. Run regular maintenance on your PC or laptop, so you’re regularly emptying your recycle bin and checking the storage on your hard drive. 

Filing and paperwork don’t have to bring you out in a cold sweat. By following the advice above you’ll not only get your filing system organised, but you’ll also feel more productive – and that’s thanks to a clearer working space and a clear head.