To help simplify retrieval and minimize time waste, invest the time to set up systems and protocol for file maintenance and back-up. Creating a standard system for all members of your team will save time in the long run. In order to maintain your e-files, you will need a few tools.
Search Tools: A search tool is software which is used to locate a specific parameter: a word, phrase or filename. Search tools are generally included in the operating system.
In many ways, organizing e-files will be similar to organizing paper files. There are also some very important differences in organizing your e-files that don’t apply to paper files.
As with paper, first establish broad categories, and then determine specific details.
To facilitate retrieval of information in the future, create a consistent naming scheme.
Start by taking a good look at your current file system. Determine if there exists a consistent method to store information. Are things easy to find, are there unnecessary duplicates, or are items stored in more than one place? How much time is spent searching for things? If more than a couple of minutes it’s time to re-organize.
Below is a sample system to get started. Businesses may need more or fewer than what is provided here. A well-functioning file system needs to be customized to individual business needs.
In a recent blog post, we discussed where to store your paper files, including archive files. In some industries, records retention requirements – and the resulting high paper volume – necessitate off-site storage. When storing files offsite, it’s critical to know which files are where so they can be located as needed with a minimum of fuss. This blog post discusses how to determine what to store offsite as well as how to retrieve easily.
1. Decide how you want to group your files. This could be alphabetically, numerically by client number, or chronologically by service date. Your choice will be informed by industry guidelines, your onsite record-keeping system, and how frequently you purge the archives.
2. To make location of archived files easier, create file indices for your archives. Include the following on the file indices:
Policygenius.com is an insurance website. Each week, they feature a business expert to share tips in their area of expertise. On February 28, 2020, Policy Genius featured Lisa Mark, C.P.O., The Time Butlerto discuss time management and how it affects our bottom line.
Here is a sneak-peek:
How does a time management expert manage her own time? What does your day look like?
My days, weeks, months, and years are (mostly) planned. I use a calendar to track meetings with clients, colleagues, and my volunteer work, but I also schedule my deep-dive, brain-intensive project time.
A typical week looks like this: About 40% to 50% is client work, 20% is a deep-dive brain-intensive project work, 10% to 15% ‘running the business’ work, and 20% is downtime.
The final step in our Paper File Management series is how to decide where to store your files. Storage depends on a number of considerations: frequency of access, compliance requirements, the size of the files, available storage, and the number of people who must access the files.
Action: Items that require an action, such as bills to pay, phone call notes, research paperwork, or information on making a purchase need to go in your Active Files. Active Files are also known as Tickler Files, because they ‘tickle’ your brain to remember that there is an action associated with them. Choose your most convenient location for your Active Files since you will be accessing them on a regular basis.
Location Options: Action Files can be stored in a number of places: a rolling cart next to your desk, in nearby cubbies or on your desktop. Make sure all labels are visible as these files will be the backbone of your daily tasks.
Reference files are files that might need to be accessed regularly. Frequency of access is determined by type of industry and whether or not paper files are still the accepted standard. When deciding where to store Reference Files, ask yourself:
Now that you have set up your Action File and designed your Reference File systems, it is time to create a File Index to provide a reference so that any file can be located quickly. When updating is needed, new files can be added within the structure of the existing file index to maintain consistency.
Designing Your File Index:
Choose a color for each file based on what the file contains. I recommend a tri-colored file system using red for critical, financial, and medical files, blue for personal and family items, and green for work and volunteer files.
Input all file names into a spreadsheet.
In your spreadsheet, use the ‘highlight’ feature to highlight each file in the appropriate color. To be more productive, highlight all files of a certain color, say, green, at the same time. Then move on to the next color set.
The attached template of a sample file index uses an alphabetical file system with subcategories as needed within the main categories.
How to Use the Index:
Once you’ve set up the index, it can serve as a reference point for which files you have and where they are located. In our sample template, the red and blue files are combined into one set of alphabetic files. The color coding provides visual separation between specific types of files to make filing easier.
Most file systems are divided into three parts: Active, Reference & Archive.
Active files are those that include action steps. For more information about creating an active file, click here.
Reference files are files that need to be kept for, well, reference. Most of the files in your file system will fall into this category. Reference files include ‘Auto’ ‘Banking’ ‘Credit Cards’ ‘Insurance’ ‘Investments’ records tracking for clients, proof of a legal transaction, or information that would be difficult to locate elsewhere.
Reference files should be kept as close to your workspace as possible for easy access. A file cabinet, rolling file cart, or, for smaller Reference File systems, a mesh cube, can be used to contain these files.
Archive files are files that need to be kept for compliance reasons. They may be accessed well into the future, if they are ever accessed at all. Archive files include old tax information, old medical records, and any other file that may need to be accessed at some point in the future.
To Create your Reference File System
Think Broad First, then Narrow: Decide whether you want to file by categories or alphabetically, or a combination of both.
There is little, if anything, more stressful than walking into your office and seeing a mountain of paper. Reducing the volume of paper will certainly help. Below are strategies to help reduce that mountain into a smaller, more manageable, system.
1. Start with a general sort. Resist the temptation to act on anything you touch. Make decisions as quickly as possible. Sort into:
Action: Items that require
an action, such as making a phone call, doing research, sending an email or
making a purchase. If like most of us, you have a stack of bills to pay, create
a separate pile for these, using one large category labeled ‘To Pay.’
File: Items to access later or items that you need to
keep that have no pending action steps.
Welcome to The Time Butler blog page, where you can learn about productivity & time management, office space planning, file systems, financial organizing, and business action plans. We provide a full range of business productivity, consulting and organizing services. Learn more about our business services here.
If you’re like most busy professionals, your office has
projects that need work: piles of papers, clutter on desk surfaces, perhaps
even piles of items waiting for time where you can address them. This can be at
odds with what most of us want: a clutter-free, calendar-clear, easily managed
task list and space.
Below are ideas to help you decide whether you need to hire a
professional to help get you from where you are to where you want to be.
Schedule: Most of us have way more to do than time to do it. It can be challenging to carve out time to work on your space when there are so many other obligations on the calendar. How can a large project be incorporated successfully into a very full schedule? Ask yourself how much time you can devote to organizing. Is it possible to designate a day each week, or two afternoons a week, to tackling these projects? If not, perhaps it’s time to hire a pro.