Even with the current push of environmentally friendly products, people are still drowning in paper. The number one problem with maintaining paper is the time involved. Not only do you have to complete the task associated with the paper, you have to manage the paper itself.
How do you store paper so you can find it again?
The answer depends on the individual. For some, paper management is an overwhelming issue that buries them in the depths of stress. For others, it is more about prioritizing, not so much the process. This blog post is directed toward the individual who struggles to find paper files.
For some, paper represents stress so you associate it with unpleasant feelings. As a result, you might not like filing cabinets, folders and the effort involved. You tend to store paperwork in stacks, all over the place. You have a need to keep paper in front of you for fear that you will lose it. Once lost, the task is forgotten which sends you scrambling to get yourself out of trouble.
One of the most frustrating elements in the paper flow process is storage. The only good storage system is one that works for you. How do you find what you are looking for? One solution is to sort and store papers by category. Create categories that you can remember. Think about the end before you start at the beginning. What words do you use to look for paper? Select categories that make sense to you.
Let’s suppose you want to find your auto insurance policy. Assume you placed it in a folder and put it in a filing cabinet. If you went looking for it six months later, what is the first word that pops in your mind? The word insurance or auto, maybe annual contracts. Whatever the word, that is the one you should use as a label (another word for category). There is no denying that placing paperwork in folders and filing cabinets is the most efficient storage method, however, this method does not work for everyone. You might be a piler or stacker. Here are a couple options:
For the METHODICAL mind Sort your papers by category. Categories should by broad, like Insurance Policies or Vacations. Suggested method: label hanging folders with the category name. Place the hanging folders in a filing cabinet. Within the hanging folder, use manila folders to subcategorize. Label the manila folders: Insurance-Auto, Insurance-Home and Insurance- All Other. Now, you can remove the manila folders as needed and be confident that you will know were to put it back. Alphabetize the hanging folders.
For the PERFECTIONIST Same as above but use manila folders with more specific labels such as Insurance-Auto 2007/2008. Use colored files. Each color should represent a section, for example, green can represent financial paperwork. You might even beuse more detailed categories on your labeled hanging folders. Also, in your filing cabinet, section off areas to represent certain topics: investments, home related, family related, etc.
For the PAPERLESS mind Use the same category theory described under METHODICAL with your computer files. Scan paper and categorize.
For the CREATIVE mind Personalize your system. Use visual products and lots of colors. Limit your use of a filing cabinet to long-term papers (like tax returns). Might want to use a combination of systems. Examples:
Suggestion #1: Use an expandable (accordion) file with the numbers 1-31, each representing a day of the month. You might also, have one labeled by month. Store papers based on the day of the month or the month you need to act on it. For example, the auto insurance policy will be filed under July because it needs to be renewed by August 1st.
Suggestion #2: Use in-boxes (desk trays) with multiple slots (this is the same theory as piling but you take advantage of vertical space). Each slot represents a category and should be labeled. Some slots are more important than other, like bills are more pressing than items To Read.
Suggestion #3: Pile stacks on shelves. Of course, you will need a lot of shelves but you will be able to see everything. Label the stacks by category. Each item in the stack needs to have a common element. If stacks get to tall or you get too many stacks, go through them and get rid of some.
For the AGING mind Chose the METHODICAL method or CREATIVE method but stay light. Keep only the papers that are critical. The less you have to remember the better your chance of success. Store long-term (rarely used) files in a seperate place, like the basement.
For the I REFUSE TO FILE mind Hire someone to file for you. The bottom line, on a trail and error basis, you have to figure out what you can maintain. Maintenance drives the success or failure or any filing system.