Your filing system is an unsung hero. It’s largely ignored unless it becomes a problem. However, filing systems are rarely planned carefully. They tend to grow and develop in an ad hoc way. The result is that the filing system your business uses today is rarely fit for purpose.
Could your staff confidently and quickly locate any paper-based piece of information? Would different staff take the same approach to filing something? Would you have to tell someone where to find what they are looking for?
A good filing system gives you two great rewards: efficiency and security. It’s worth taking a little time to make sure that your filing system follows best practices. Here are our top 10 filing and paper organisation tips:
- Start at the ‘files’ level
The most obvious problem is that businesses start at the ‘furniture’ level and not that of the ‘files’. Quickly you’re forcing your unique requirements into a make-do solution.
Instead, you should start at your files. Start with the broadest categorisation which applies to a set of files, e.g. Personnel Records. Then within the file you can sub-divide into categories. Then you can see how these files will sit within a filing system, and what they actually need.
- Think about retrieval
Filing systems should focus on retrieval and not storage. If you simply needed to store files you could pop them in boxes and let them gather dust. But rather, these are working documents, so the focus should be on retrieval. Therefore, you need to design your system around your retrieval requirements.
To pin this down – what documents do you regularly need to access? How can you find these most efficiently?
- Only put stuff IN when you know when it’s being thrown OUT
This is a vital step of filing that organisations miss out. The result is that filing systems become horrendously overstuffed, obsolete and slow down all work processes. It’s also a poor form where data protection and the GDPR are concerned.
Your filing system should include a clear trail whereby you enter the destruction date for each item being filed at the point at which it is put in.
- Routinely clear it out
Which brings us nicely onto the next tip: recording when to throw something out is useless if you don’t follow through. Part of maintaining a functional and orderly filing system involves having a routine process for throwing out obsolete documents.
Once a quarter, administrators should undertake the task of using their system from tip 3 to go through and remove all obsolete documents from the files, or indeed files themselves.
These should be securely disposed of. The most sensible way to do this is to use lockable secure disposal cabinets or bins while the documents are waiting for onsite shredding or offsite shredding.
- Create a clear desk policy
A problem with filing is that no one really wants to do it. It’s not exactly the most glamourous part of the job. There are always more pressing requirements. However, the reality is that filing shouldn’t ever build up, but it should be a constant and seamless task that is done as part of wider tasks.
Therefore, culturally and procedurally, you need to create a company ethos for clear desks. There shouldn’t be mountains of paperwork building on every desk in the office.
- If there are mountains, tackle them
Which brings us onto the point about what to do if there are mountains of files on a few people’s desks.
Ultimately, you need to impress the importance of tip 5. However, in the meantime it can be sensible to get in a team of filing fairies to tackle the piles of filing, according to business procedures, in order to get the individual or department back to a good starting point.
- Get savvy with data tracing
Businesses can quickly end up in a tangle because documents are going back and forth, part on digital systems, part by hand. Many workers will therefore end up printing off reams of documents to get their heads around tracing the changes. Quickly the system is inefficient and different people could be working to different versions of the same thing.
Part of a good filing practice is to have a consistent system across the organisation for managing such problems. Apps and sharing platforms can be a solution. Centralising the edits within an app or sharing platform, should mean that everyone is working to the most recent version with no need for reams of printing.
- Be digital where possible
Perhaps the simplest way of reducing the pressure on your filing systems is to reduce the amount that needs to go in them. Paper-based filing systems are open to human error and security breaches. While the same issues can apply digitally, traceability is more apparent.
Therefore, wherever possible, try to keep records digitally. Take the same organised approach to storing files digitally as you would if you were using physical filing cabinets. Label, sort and delete routinely. This includes your inbox.
- Make friends with the shredding machine
A good filing system is always the most pared down version of itself. We’re not advocating throwing out documents you need or are obligated to store. However, we are encouraging you to feel confident with your destruction processes.
If you are holding documents in filing because you think they are most secure that way, the solution is to up your security at the point of destruction, not avoid it altogether.
At On Time Shred we can help you here. We offer a range of secure pre-disposal storage such as locked bins and cabinets. We then securely shred documents either onsite at your location or securely take the items to be shredded at our offsite shredding plant. You can find out more about the security of our paper shredding service here.
- Use colour
It’s a simple concept but it works fantastically. By using different colours for different departments or categories, items become quickly identifiable if they are accidentally filed in the wrong place, or being used in error.
It’s time to give your filing system some TLC. Stop, take stock, and make it fit for purpose based on your needs of today.