The Best Way to Archive Files

As we’ve discussed in past blog posts, paper and electronic file systems can be divided into three parts: Active, Reference, and Archive. Active files require action. Reference files are files that have no immediate action associated with them, but that you may need in the near future.

In contrast, Archive files are files you may need to access at some (potentially quite distant) point in the future. Archive files may need to be retained for a variety of reasons: to comply with industry standards, to provide proof of payment, or as backup documentation. Archive files might also include old medical records, memorabilia, like letters and notes from loved ones, old tax documents, and documents that are difficult to replace, like original birth certificates or notarized records.

Archive files in electronic form most often encompass items needed for industry compliance purposes, along with ‘CYA’ (Cover your A**) documents. These types of files may be needed to prove that you completed a task you needed to, or, in contrast, did not do something you were not supposed to do.

Because archive files are accessed infrequently, they should be kept out of prime space but in an area that is still accessible, and via a method that makes sense.

For effectiveness, efficiency, and accessibility, archive file systems, whether in paper or electronic form, need to be:  

  • Specific
  • Indexed
  • Functional
  • Consistent

Specific: For paper files, use nomenclature that is specific enough to be meaningful, but not so specific as to limit function. An ideal file name encompasses several categories of items while still retaining meaning. As an example, the filename ‘Important Documents’ is specific and simple enough to indicate the contents, whereas the filenames ‘Birth Certificates’ or ‘Marriage Licenses,’ are much more limiting.

Indexed: A file index listing the name and location of each archive file will jog your memory and make it easier to retrieve needed items, even after much time has passed. It also saves time if archive files are in alphabetical order. An Excel document, sorted A to Z, works well for this. The Excel sheet can also be color coded to match paper files with different color file folders, making retrieval even easier. If you know a file folder is red, for example, you can ignore all the other color folders.

Functional: To archive files in paper form, use readily available filing supplies rather than one-off, designer supplies. This increases the odds that similar supplies can be procured if needed in the future, provides uniformity and balance to the system, and aids in future document retrieval.

Consistent: Because archive files are so rarely accessed, the nomenclature used needs to be self-explanatory. This is especially true for archived e-files, as a consistent nomenclature will enable you to search on specific keywords, increasing the odds that you’ll be able to locate what you need within just a few seconds. Ideally, the nomenclature used for paper and e-file systems will duplicate each other as much as possible.

A Note on Nomenclature: Nomenclature ensures naming consistency for both paper & electronic files.  Paper file nomenclature is generally descriptive (see above) while e-file nomenclature is both descriptive and locative (easy to locate using the ‘Search’ function.)

Sample nomenclature for electronic files should include:

  • The description of what the file contains
  • Followed by any other needed information to jog your mind as to file contents
  • Followed by the date in Year, Month, Day form.

If you need help with archiving your files, contact Lisa Mark, C.P.O. to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

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