Paper seems to have survived the invention of technology, such as mobile phones and the internet, which are staples of the digital era. This is exemplified by the extensive paper consumption witnessed in numerous workplaces worldwide. For example, in the United States, paper consumption has risen by 126% within two decades. Currently, paper usage in the country stands at 208 million tons of paper.
Further statistics show that approximately 30-40% of an average employee’s time is spent searching through documents stored in filing cabinets. This translates to 2-3 hours for an employee working an 8-hour shift, which equals 10-15 hours a week. Besides significantly reducing productivity, searching for a document for two hours on end can be quite tiring.
If your organization is still using paper despite the availability of digital technologies, like the best document scanner software, high chances are they may not be going paperless any time soon. So, it’s about time you get a filing system upgrade.
Read on to learn about all the tips for improving your filing system.
Office filing system.
Companies across different sectors use filing systems to organize their records efficiently. A well-organized filing system allows you to find documents from two or even five years ago without breaking a sweat. Here are the steps you should take to improve your office filing system.
1. Create a document retention schedule.
A document retention schedule is a list that includes document types available in an organization. The schedule also contains information that determines how long each record should be kept.
Some documents, like mortgages and financial statements, need to be kept permanently.
Other records, like lease or property-related documents, are transitory and only need to be stored until the limitations period expires.
Creating a document retention schedule will help you eliminate records that are due for disposal. This will keep your filing system more organized and provide easy access to information.
The following is a guide to arranging a retention schedule.
- The first step is to arrange documents depending on their level of importance. You can use broad categories, such as critical records and temporary records. The critical records category should cover important documents that require permanent preservation. On the other hand, the temporary category should include documents whose value to an organization is short-lived.
- The second step is determining the retention period for the documents in the category of temporary records. Federal and state retention requirements stipulate how long certain documents should be kept. Therefore, it’s important to consult authorized websites or professionals to help you determine the retention period for these records.
- After determining retention periods for your temporary records, you’ll need to develop a disposition schedule. This means deciding when to dispose of documents whose life cycle has ended. The best and safest method for disposing of records is through shredding, which prevents the theft of sensitive information.
- Lastly, ensure you review and upgrade your retention schedule regularly. Business operations, policies, and regulations are bound to change as time progresses. Since additional record types and documents will be involved, you’ll need to differentiate which ones to store permanently and which ones are of short-term value to keep your filing system organized.
By following these steps, you’ll have an effective retention schedule that enhances your filing system.
2. Don’t hoard unnecessary documents.
Now that you have a retention schedule, you’ll have no excuse to hoard unnecessary records any longer than you should. For example, you may have attended a meeting without your laptop and decided to write down the minutes on a piece of paper. Later, you typed out the minutes and made official copies of them. Nonetheless, you still kept the written copy because you were convinced you may need it, but you don’t.
The trouble with hoarding is that it can quickly turn into a habit. It may begin with you keeping a rough draft of a memo or minutes that was sent over a month ago. Later on, that rough draft will turn into another copy of a memo or minutes of a meeting that happened a year ago. Before you know it, you’ll have accumulated unnecessary records that only crowd your filing system.
To avoid hoarding unnecessary items, use your retention schedule as your checklist. Does the item qualify in any of the categories you designed for your retention schedule? If yes, group it in the relevant record category.
If the item doesn’t qualify, shred it.
3. Use the color-coding technique.
Most organized people love using this technique, and reasonably so. Color-coding is easy to achieve, not to mention it helps you find files quicker. All you need to do is arrange your files into categories, then assign a specific color to each group.
Ensure that you categorize records based on recognizable patterns. For example, classifying financial documents together will make locating them easier. Similarly, grouping contracts jointly makes them easily accessible. Next, assign color codes to each category by using colorful labels on drawers or utilizing colored folders.
This hack will significantly reduce the time you spend searching for files in the filing system. For instance, if employee contracts are coded green, and you need to find them, there’d be no need to look in a blue folder.
4. Make a habit of filing regularly.
One of the reasons your filing system may be in shambles is that you don’t have a consistent filing schedule. Habitually piling files on your desk until there’s no more room is bound to leave your filing system disorderly. How? Keeping files on your desk means you only file when there’s no more space.
When that happens, you may not have enough time to organize your storage. As such, you won’t be able to know what files are due for disposal. On the other hand, if you file frequently, you’ll be able to declutter the filing cabinet and have enough room for incoming files. Therefore, to improve your filing system, you must make a habit of filing regularly.
You can decide to do that on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The goal is to create a routine that you can follow. When are you the least busy during the week? How much time can you slot in tasks associated with filing? These questions will help you create a schedule you’re comfortable with, and soon, filing frequently will become a habit.
5. Design a temporary holding area.
Being hands-on with filing will undoubtedly save you from a disorganized filing system. However, sticking with a filing schedule may be challenging on busy days. That’s why designing a temporary holding area is vital. This is where you’ll be keeping files in preparation for filing.
Your temporary holding area can be a temporary folder or a desktop rack. As for organization, make sure you arrange the files in the same order you would if you were filing them. This will make filing easier because you’ll only need to shift their location instead of rearranging from scratch.
6. Maintain consistency when naming records.
Whether you’re designing your retention schedule or color-coding your records, make sure you remain consistent with naming them. For instance, if you decide to classify your records into critical and temporary records, don’t change them later. You can add extra categories after reviewing your schedule, but you shouldn’t change existing ones, as that will create confusion.
Similarly, if you assign financial records a red color when color-coding, make sure you don’t change it along the way. Remaining consistent when naming your records will significantly improve your filing system.
7. Create digital copies of records.
Whether your business still uses paper, some level of digital filing is necessary. This is because no matter how organized you are, your filing cabinets will fill up at some point. To avoid crowding your office space with file cabinets, converting some records into a digital format is necessary.
For example, while original copies of documents are crucial to an organization, storing copies electronically saves space. Additionally, electronic filing systems ease document retrieval compared with the traditional filing system. The former is also considered more accurate because error detection is automated for electronic filing systems, unlike in manual filing systems.
8. Differentiate completed projects from those in progress.
Let’s be honest; it can be frustrating to look for completed projects in a heap of incomplete projects and vice versa. It’s even worse when the tasks are similar because finding the right one requires extra effort and time.
That’s why it’s advisable to separate completed projects from incomplete ones. It’s your responsibility to ensure your filing system has a section for each. Moreover, consider using color codes for each group or a simple label with each category’s name on it.
It’s no doubt that improving your office filing system requires a hands-on approach. With this article as a guide, you’ll file like a pro.
However, you must remember that creating a record retention schedule alone won’t enhance your filing system. This schedule may allow you to dispose of documents whose life cycle has expired, but it won’t make accessing documents easier.
The same is true of using the color-coding technique. Color codes will make it easier to find documents you need, but classifying records should remain consistent.