C21 is shorthand for twenty-first century, and despite all our electronic workmates, filing in our era can be more of a challenge rather than less. There’s more to file, and more
options for doing so.
Mind your p’s and e’s
Here’s what works for some experts we know. Some of these ideas may work for you, too.
It’s a C21 Filing
Fact of Life: your system will most likely incorporate both
electronic (e) and print (p) files. Decide what you want to e-file
and what you want to p-file, and try not to overlap the two. If you
file the physical copy of an email, consider deleting the virtual
Back up your files. You know you should...but do
you? Put it on your calendar to help make it happen. Then breathe a
big sigh of relief when you actually need the backup.
Distinguish between retrieval and storage. The files
that you keep within reach should be ones that you refer to at least
once a week. If you haven’t retrieved a file in six months, it
probably doesn’t need to occupy valuable space close to you.
File by degrees
Try organizing your print files
by hot, medium and cold.
If it’s that hot, say some of our filing experts, think about
whether you should file it at all. Act on it first. Then, if you
still plan on referring to it every day, make it a desk file.
Put the files you use on a routine, weekly basis in a
cabinet that’s within arm’s reach or on a file trolley that you can
pull up to your desk.
As our friend Julie Morgenstern, the
author of Organizing from the Inside
Out, reminds us: putting your file cabinets in
reach of your deskeven if they supplant a credenzasaves steps and
Move files you haven’t referred to in 12 months to
storage and free up valuable space on and near your work area. If 12
months doesn’t work for you, decide on your own timeframe when they
should go coldand do it.
Mary Ellen Canniff, who operates a
home-office organization service called Piles of Files, recommends
this method for house files: put the current year’s in the top
drawer of the file cabinet
(she favors lateral ones), the prior year’s in the second drawer and
older files in containers for storage.
File by category
Our other favorite tip from
Julie: file by category, rather than A to Z. Aim for three to five
broad categories, then assign a file drawer to each one if you can.
Are you a tickler for details?
Tickler files are meant to be a nearly failsafe way to follow up when you
need to. While you can tickle by topic, a better way is by date.
You might have a monthly tickler by day (1-31) and a yearly tickler
by month (Jan, Feb, Mar).
Not all the organized people we know use p-files for their
ticklers. Some prefer to use their electronic calendars as
follow-ups, or to put a reminder note in their task folder.
To color-code or not
Some organizational gurus
swear by it, others don’t. Our advice: use colorful folders
regardless, as they’re a welcome visual break from a sea of manila.
And if you find yourself assigning categories to each colorred for
action, blue for quiet reading time, green for todaythen that
system was meant for you. The next level of color-coding?
Coordinating ink colors.
It’s surprising how a little bit of good planning can free your
timeand your mindfor more creative tasks than looking for a file.