Where to Store Paper Files

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:

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How to Create a File Index

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Input all file names into a spreadsheet.
  3. Sort alphabetically.
  4. 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.

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How to Create a File System

Now that you have reduced the mountain of paper spread around your office, it’s time to create an organized file system.

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.

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