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

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.