With all due respect to office juniors I would suggest that this implies filing is deemed to be something of very little importance. It doesn’t matter if you get it wrong.
Oh, but it does matter – and if it’s your business then it matters a lot.
So, what exactly is filing?
Here’s my own definition:
“Filing is the art of storing multiple documents in a way that renders them all readily accessible.”
“A filing system is the way in which documents are organised and to a certain extent how those documents are housed.”
Does filing leave you cold?
Let me tell you, creating an effective filing system is the ideal mental workout! So you can forget ‘boring’. More on this later.
If you’re not a natural filing enthusiast then I can see I need to give you some good reasons for indulging in this creative activity.
Let’s consider what would happen if you never did any filing
- Lost or duplicated items
- Resulting impact on your invoices, payments, customer and supplier relations
- Your business would become progressively more inefficient
- You would waste a lot of time
- Your work environment would become a ‘no-go’ zone
- Negative impact on your professional reputation
So, you could avoid this by creating your own bespoke filing system – or – you could play Russian Roulette with your business records and reputation. Which would you choose?
Don’t be a slave to tradition
This is the veritable straight-jacket of filing!
I did once have a client who possessed four such cabinets and I soon discovered why everyone had piles of paper on their desks. It was because the filing cabinets were literally the A-Z of everything. There was no other logic to it at all. Anything added to the ‘system’ was pretty much destined to disappear into a sea of muddled papers.
I want you to think creatively about your filing.
Create your own bespoke system
Don’t ever just bung papers into folders in a random way and shove them into a filing cabinet. This is almost worse than doing nothing. If you work alone, you have carte blanche. If you work with others who access the same information then you must make sure you all work to the same logic.
Here are 7 steps to your perfect filing system:
- Find out exactly what you’ve got to file – spread it out
- Establish how much of this content you actually need
- Eliminate obsolete material
- Sort remainder into meaningful categories
- Decide on the ‘container’ for your filing dependent on quantity and type of records and personal preference. Filing cabinet or shelves?
- Apply ‘Storage Logic’ as you locate content to folders/files/etc. ‘Storage Logic’ requires you to consider when and how you are likely to want to access the content. Using this knowledge enables you to store content with other task-related content. You already use ‘Storage Logic’ in you day- to-day life, now apply it to your filing. When you purchase a bottle of milk you don’t have to think twice about where to store it. The following day when you need the milk, you know exactly where to find it. This is what you’re aiming for with you business records – efficient storage and speedy retrieval
- Use ‘Appropriate File Names’ to label files and folders. An ‘Appropriate File Name’ uses a short and meaningful phrase to summarise the content. Don’t get hung up on thinking of a ‘title’ for your file – it needs to be a description. My clients have used ‘Work in progress’ and ‘Keep for reference’ which must have meant something at the time but later became completely meaningless.
Your filing system is neither preserved in aspic nor set in stone
You will: add content / change content / remove content
This is perfectly normal.
When adding content – always apply the ‘Storage Logic’ principle
Do not add content unless you are convinced of its future value
Make time to overhaul the system periodically. Remove content for disposal or archiving and re-work the system as your business grows and changes. This is similar to having your car serviced. Keep your filing system well tuned!
The paperless office
For those who dislike filing, this is the Shangri La of document management. This feels like something to aspire to.
I know I sound like a Luddite maybe even a digital dinosaur, but I do need to add a word of caution here.
“Going paperless won’t make you organised.”
This really is a potential trap. Digital records need to be organised and labelled thoughtfully in just the same way as their paper cousins.
If you aspire to a paperless office just remember that it’s practically impossible to stop others sending you paper. Also, you must organise your paper content before commencing the exercise otherwise you will swap paper chaos for digital chaos. You will have wasted time and effort for no obvious gain.
Accountant Rebecca Taylor encourages her clients to use Xero accounting software which makes it easy to upload digital copies of business documents. For more information contact Rebecca directly.at Parfitt Taylor Financial Management
I’m here to help
I’ve worked with a variety of businesses, and although their content varies greatly according to their line of work, the basic principles always remain the same.
There’s a huge sense of relief that comes with knowing exactly where to find things when you need them in a hurry. This brings peace of mind and helps reduce stress levels in the working environment.