Do you like everything tucked away — or do you prefer to have stacks at the ready? Whether you are a color-coded-file person or a towering-pile-of-papers type, we have some tips to keep it all under control. Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore, getbuttonedup.com
Keep it simple. Start with 10 categories and files. Most of the documents you need to have on hand should be able to fit within those 10 categories. Stick to it for one month and if you find that you need more, then add them, but the best filing systems are the ones that are easy to navigate.
In-boxes are not a sign of failure. No matter how hard you try or how much you want to keep things packed away in files, there are just some things that need to be in plain sight. Maybe it's documents that require some action, or simply things that need to be referred to often; keeping an in-box or a stackable file system keeps things contained but accessible.
Make it a habit. Every good organizer knows that the key to keeping it all together is making it a habit. Whether you take two minutes each day or 15 minutes at the end of each week to tackle that growing pile, it's better to maintain your system on a regular basis. The longer you wait, the more overwhelming it becomes.
If in doubt, throw it out. Twice a year, set aside time to really comb through your files and figure out what really needs to be kept. Not sure if you still need something? Put it in a box somewhere that isn't part of your daily filing system. If you haven't looked at it after a year, then throw it out.
Pack rats be damned. File people can also sometimes be pack rats since they are tricked into thinking that keeping things in neat files means they are organized. Restrain your inner pack rat by keeping a recycling bin and garbage can next to your desk. Experiment by setting aside things you think you might need for 30 days. After this time, see how often you referred to it and then determine its fate.
Piles can be perfect. Don't let the file people bully you into thinking you're not organized just because your system is more visible. Piles can be just as organized if you know what you have.
Contain the pile. If you are going to keep piles out, then keep them contained and don't let them get out of control. Allot a specific amount of space on your desk for your piles and keep them constrained to that. Too many pile people contort themselves to work around their ever-expanding piles only to end up with sore backs and necks.
Colors are the key. Color-coding the piles isn't just for overachievers. It's a great way to immediately identify what you have without having to dig through the pile. Pick five folder colors and use them to clearly indicate categories such as: Must Do, Must Take With Me, Holding Pen, For Someone Else and To Pay.
Set a height limit. Set a limit for your piles. Once it gets to that height, force yourself to weed through it.
No new piles. Commit to no new piles. If something can't be integrated into an existing pile, consider whether you really need to keep it.