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File, don’t pile

A lot of clients tell me “I’m a visual type; I need to see my projects on my desk!” (or floor or wall or whatever). I used to think that way myself, but finally in the late 1990s I developed a simple filing system and I don’t have to look at a table or desk covered with stacks of paper anymore.

My files are a mix of reference, archives and active projects and I can find what I need quickly and easily. Because I update and purge my files regularly (a good thing to do when you are on hold with tech support or another long hold-time call) my files are relevant and vital, not useless extra weight.

I firmly believe that every person over college age should have four high-quality file drawers available to them for their paper archives and projects. I like two two-drawer cabinets placed close to my desk so that I can roll around in my chair and file papers without getting up.

Depending on the thickness of your tax documents are each year, you may need separate labeled bins for these (ask your CPA how long you need to save them) and store them in the garage or attic. But if you have fairly simple returns, there is no reason they can’t reside in your file drawers with your more active projects and documents.

Don’t fill your file drawers. File drawers should remain at most three-quarters full so that filing and finding files is easier and kinder to the cuticles. Over-stuffed drawers prevent the filing of new items. If you have to, buy more file cabinets rather than over-stuff. Or better yet, purge whenever possible. Studies have shown that more than    80 percent of what we file is never looked at again. So, with the exception of very important documents, do you really need to save it?

Now, for you artistic and visual types: Resist color coding. Keep it simple with army green hanging files and manila folders. Color coding is far more trouble than it is worth. Companies invariably change the folder colors and thus color coders must constantly tweak or change their systems. Also, if you run out of baby blue folders and have a baby blue item to file, will you immediately run out and buy baby blue folders? The item will most likely get stacked on top of a growing “to be filed” pile.

The most logical way I’ve found to file papers is by subject first, then more specific subject. For example, “Autos, Dodge” followed by “Autos, Prius” and “Financial, Banking” followed by “Financial, Taxes 2008”, etc. The key is to be able to find the piece of paper you need as quickly as possible. So make the files as specific as you can without getting too nuts. If you have just one car, a file labeled “Auto” will suffice, but if you collect cars, you would need a file for each: “Alfa Romeo,” “BMW,” “Corvette,” etc.

A labeler will pull your whole filing system to a new level. Black type on white tape is easiest to read and looks clean. You will begin to enjoy making new files and clearing stacks of paper. I can (almost) guarantee it.