There’s something about filing that makes my eyes glaze over – and filing for any length of time puts me in danger of falling into a coma.
But unfortunately, hate it or not, when you run a small business, the filing has to be done, or you’ll soon find your desk collapsing under the weight of all the paper that keeps piling up. What’s a hater of filing to do?
There are two approaches to the problem that might help. You can try to make your time filing as short as possible (a method I’ve almost perfected over years of running an office) or make your time filing as much fun as possible (something I keep trying to accomplish). Let’s look at tips for cutting down the amount of time you actually spend filing first.
Shred and recycle when possible
The first question about any piece of paper staring up at you waiting to be filed is, “Does this document need to be filed?”
A lot of the documents that come in the mail can go directly into the shredder. What’s the point in filing ads or informational letters from other companies, for instance? When you're dealing with mail, read a piece of mail once, decide whether you'll need it a year from now and file or shred it accordingly.
Chances are good you’re also filing a lot of hard copies of documents that you don’t need to be filing – and shouldn’t even be printing in the first place. There’s no need to file paper copies of invoices or letters, for example, if your electronic files are organized and you’re following proper backup procedures.
So when you’re tackling that pile of filing, shred the “paper you can live without”.
Use a filing system that makes other office chores easier, not harder.
Most of the paper that I need to be filing is related to the process of doing business – and these documents need to be entered into the accounting system before anything else is done with them. So instead of taking that receipt for a printer toner cartridge and filing it under “P” in my main filing system, I file it in my “first” filing system, a series of folders labeled by month and year.
For example, if I purchased the toner cartridge in September 2017, that’s the file it goes in, along with all the other bills, receipts and other business documents that occurred within that month. Then it’s a simple matter to work through the folder at the end of the month and make all the accounting entries that need to be made (or if you’re not doing it yourself, to hand the monthly folder over to your accountant or bookkeeper).
Note that we run a service business, not a retail business, so sitting down and working on the accounts once a month works for me. You’ll need to modify the monthly folder idea accordingly if you need to bring your accounts up to date more frequently.
Think before you file
What happens after I’ve used the monthly folders to do the accounting? The documents need to be moved on to the “main” filing system. But rather than just filing each document individually depending on its title, I file logically according to the group, a filing procedure I find much faster.
Let’s have another look at the example of the printer toner cartridge. Instead of filing this receipt under “P” for printer toner cartridge, I would file this one under Office Supplies – Receipts, the same place that I would file documents such as a receipt for a collection of post-it notes or a receipt for printer paper. This not only makes filing faster but makes it much easier to find documents afterward.
Use whole words and phrases on your file folder labels, not just letters
There’s no rule that says that you are only limited to single letters when creating the divisions of your filing system. And if you do, you’re making your filing unnecessarily slow and complicated. Customize your filing system so you can benefit from filing by a group and find the right location to place a document more quickly.
For instance, instead of just having a section of my filing system labeled “C”, I also have a section labeled “Client Files”. The files within “Client Files” are organized alphabetically. The beauty of customizing your filing system this way is that it can always be further subdivided and organized if you need to. So a major client could have a file system divider labeled with her name within the “Client Files” section to make finding documents related to her easier.
In this example, then, the labels on the filing system would read “B”, “C”, “Client Files”, “D"... See how much easier your filing becomes?
Another filing tip to speed up your filing: Don’t forget to customize the alphabet, too. Instead of just having an “M” section, label one “Mc” too.
Keep your “first” filing system close and convenient
The other great thing about using a two-stage filing system such as the one I’ve described above is that it becomes much easier to keep the first stage of your filing system (the monthly folders) physically close to your workspace. You’ll be much more inclined to file papers immediately instead of letting them pile up if you have a close, organized place to file them.
So put your last, current, and next month’s monthly folders in a tray or use a concertina file and put it within arm’s length in your workspace. The bulk of your filing system (the “main” filing system, as we called it above, can be across the room or even in a different room entirely, but in the interests of saving time, you shouldn’t have to get up to do your first stage filing.
How to Make Filing Fun
The filing tips I’ve given you so far should help you cut down the time you spend filing and prevent brain freeze. But what about making your time filing more fun?
In truth, the only strategy I’ve come up with here is the outright bribe, rewarding myself with a cookie if I file for a certain amount of time. This will work but can lead to putting on plenty of pounds if you have a lot of filing to do.
Or you could take a more artistic approach, using all different colors for your file folders and using unusual fonts or calligraphy for the labels. Whether or not this makes your filing more fun, it will certainly make doing it more attractive.
And who knows? Maybe just the fact that your filing is so much faster now that it's so organized will make it a lot more fun to do.