How to Establish an Effective System for Handling and Storing Paper?
You can’t get things done efficiently if you don’t have a record storage system for handling and storing paper and other documents that come across your desk. It’s important to be able to put your hands on papers quickly, and to be able to switch gears quickly and start working on something else when you need to. To do so, you need to keep related papers together. And you need to know how to find them.
Some experts say, “You should be able to put your hand on any piece of paper in your office in ten seconds or less.” Some people probably can, but you wouldn’t want to know them. Close is good enough in paper-handling. As long as you can put your hand on anything in a minute or so, you’re doing fine.
To do your best work, and to focus solely on the task at hand, be able clear your desk at a moment’s notice. This provides a psychological benefit as well as a spatial one you’re cleared for takeoff.
Being able to clear your desk quickly requires knowing a few tricks. The first is to handle all paper in one location. Not one office, but one desk and an adjacent filing cabinet. You need a “command center” to force you to deal with inefficient piles (else how can you work at your desk?) and to limit the number of places paper can be.
Trick number two is knowing how to organize the paper you now have. This is simple. You need a filing cabinet (or a filing crate if you want to save money), a box of manila folders, a box of hanging folders, and labels.
Go through all your loose paper. Put related items in a manila folder. Type or print neatly the folder’s contents on a label. “Rivera Project,” for example, or “Memos on Product X.” If you need a series of folders for a particular project or subject, then group them together into a hanging file.
Unless you’re now working on that folder or you work on it regularly, file it in the filing cabinet. If the file is going to grow, give its own hanging file. If not, put it with other files that relate somehow. Call it something that you’ll remember and that will remind you of what’s inside. ”New Product Warranties” is one example. “Information on NAFTA” is another. Keep files in strict alphabetical sequence.
When naming files don’t follow anyone’s suggestions but your own, name them something descriptive and distinctive that will stick in your mind. If you ever have trouble finding a file, either fix it well in your mind or rename it.
Some people like to create an index of their file names so they can scan it before they get out of their chairs to find the file. If your labels remain neat and visible, I don’t see the advantage. But maybe the idea appeals to you. Handle all your paper in one location only. You need a command center to deal with it efficiently. You also need a place to put files you’re working on or those you consult frequently. Use the first position in the top drawer of your file cabinet. Better yet, buy a file rack that stands on the desktop. Quite handy, they come in wire or plastic format, and in various sizes. A desk rack keeps all the files you need for that day or that week within easy reach.
What about multi-tiered, horizontal trays? Hmm. They take up a lot of room, and they aren’t that easy to access. (Ever try to find a piece of paper somewhere in the pile on the bottom tray?) You might use one as an in-box and maybe another as an outbox if you need it. But use them only for transitory items never to store things longer than a day or two.