How to Organize Office Files & Folders

You could use color-coded binders to store things you need to access often.

You could use color-coded binders to store things you need to access often.

Whether you're just getting started with your career or you're well on your way toward retirement, you probably already know that office clutter can pile up fast. By spending a relatively short amount of time organizing your office files and folders, you'll be able to retrieve things faster when you need them on the fly. Plus, you'll have a cleaner office -- which can help you stay focused and productive.

Sort things in order of necessity. Create a pile for things you need to access every day, a pile for things you need to access occasionally and a pile for things you need to keep around, but rarely need to access.

Break down the "every day" and "occasional" piles into a color-coded filing system, advises the organizing company Smead Organomics. This involves sorting things by category and then assigning a color for each category. For example, purple could be your customer files, green could be your financial files, and blue could be your legal files. Place the appropriate-colored tab or label on a folder or file drawer, and then place the corresponding documents in those folders or files.

Place the color-coded "every day" files into a file cabinet that you keep very close to your work area. Depending on the number of files and categories you have, you may be able to assign one drawer for each category. As you place the file into your file cabinet, alphabetize the file, if possible. For example, in your purple customer drawer, alphabetize the files by the customer's last name, placing the "A" files near the front and working backward. When you've sorted and placed the "every day" files, do the same for the "occasional" files, placing them in another file cabinet near your work area.

Place a color-coded label on the outside of each drawer, and write a brief description of the contents of the drawer on the label. For both the "every day" and "occasional" sections, keep at least one drawer empty so you'll have places to put new documents as they come around.

Sort the stuff you need to access only rarely, using the color-coded system. If you have more file cabinets, you could place the files into a third file cabinet -- though file boxes are also appropriate since you won't have to flip through these files very often. Place a color-coded label on the outside of each box, and then place the boxes in a storage location.

Designate a time every six months or so when you'll sort through each file box and shred or recycle the documents you no longer need. Depending on your industry, you may be required to store documents for a certain period of time before destroying or disposing of them. Follow the laws governing your industry, and use those guidelines to set up a sorting and disposal schedule.

Obtain and label inbox trays for "every day," "occasional," and "random" items, as well as a "work in progress" tray, to sort paperwork that comes into the office. At the end of each day -- or at least once a week -- spend a few minutes sorting these trays, placing paperwork in the file cabinet or box where it belongs.

Items you will need

  • File cabinet
  • File folders
  • File boxes
  • Colored labels

Tip

  • Include information about your filing system in your employee handbook or new employee training, so that any new people who come into your office are able to contribute to the organization of the office right away.
 

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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