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The Paper Tiger Blog contains great ideas on better ways to stay organized, clear your desk, reduce stress and spend less time managing information.

Geek to Live: Extreme makeover, filing cabinet edition

This article below is a great source to get your filing cabinet(s) in order. Gina suggests a label maker, which is a fine resource, however if you use The Paper Tiger document management and filing system software, you can print your labels from within the software.

By Gina Trapani, 12:30 PM on Fri Feb 17 2006

One of the main clutter culprits in my home office is the “To File” pile – you know, that stack of paperwork that’s supposed to go into the file drawer at one point or another. Usually this pile spontaneously occurs right on top of the filing cabinet, which is pretty silly. I mean, instead of adding stuff to the pile, why wouldn’t I just file it? Turns out the sad state of my messy, overflowing filing cabinet is the reason for my blockage.

Sound familiar? Today we’re going to embark on a file drawer makeover for the overstuffed, under labeled filing system and turn it into a neat, breezy and dare I say pleasurable place to organize your important paperwork.

Give your paperwork a spacious place to live.
Let’s face it: we’re not in college anymore. That plastic file box or enormous binder held shut with a rubber band just ain’t going to cut it. You’ve got personal, financial, insurance, car, clients, tax and medical paperwork to track. If you’ve been using an undersized filing cabinet that just doesn’t have enough room to accommodate your stuff – or no filing cabinet at all – invest in a spacious, well designed file drawer or cabinet that leaves you room to spare. Lots of room. In fact, Getting Things Done author David Allen says your file drawer should be only three-quarters full. From page 99 of the GTD book:

“I know almost no one who doesn’t have overstuffed file drawers. If you value your cuticles, and if you want to get rid of your unconscious resistance to filing, then you must keep the drawers loose enough that you can insert and retrieve files without effort.”

If you’re out to buy a new filing cabinet, Allen says you shouldn’t skimp on quality.

“Nothing is worse than trying to open a heavy file drawer and hearing that awful screech! that happens when you wrestle with the roller bearings on one of those $29.95 “special sale” cabinets. You really need a file cabinet whose drawer, even when it’s three-quarters full, will glide open and click shut with the smoothness and solidity of a door on a German car. I’m not kidding.”

He’s not kidding. A tool that’s easy and fun to use is a tool you will use.

Allocate one file folder per hanging folder.
As soon as things start to get crowded inside filing cabinet land, your first instinct is to start putting several manila folders into one hanging folder. Bad idea. Allocate one single manila folder to one single hanging folder. This cleanly separates your folders and makes them easy to ruffle through them. (Allen recommends staying away from hanging folders completely; personally, I like them.) Keep a supply of both manila folders and hanging folders within reach so that creating a new one is as easy as possible.

Choose an accessible naming scheme.
You may be a plain old straight-up A to Z type person, but there are more ways than one to alphabetize file folders. My preferred method is to break things up into categories, like “Car,” “Client,” “Taxes,” “Bank Account” and preface a folder name with that word. For example, one folder might be “Car: Honda Accord” and another is “Client: Lifehacker,” and another “Bank Account: ING Direct.”

Whatever method you choose, make sure your system is obvious and consistent throughout your files to make retrieving paperwork as simple and thoughtless as possible.

Use a label maker.
When I first read Getting Things Done, the recommended tool I was most sure I didn’t need was a label maker. Boy was I wrong. Neatly labelled folders make a file drawer look sharp and accessible.

I used to write the name of my folder in pen or pencil or marker right onto the tab. When I wanted to reuse a folder, I’d put masking tape or white-out over the old label and write over it. What a mess that was – especially considering the downward path my handwriting has taken since I learned how to print in second grade. Making a label is fun and makes your folders look super-professional and easy to read. Check out the difference between written tabs and labeled tabs.

See? The Brother P-Touch Home and Hobby Label Maker gets the job done and it’ll set you back about 25 bucks.

Purge what you don’t need. Archive closed files.
Over time it’s easy for your filing drawer to get out of control and filled with stuff that doesn’t matter any more or that you simply don’t need on hand at all times. Be sure to purge your paperwork every few months of the irrelevant stuff, like user guides you can get on the web or for gadgets you no longer own, past project research and former employer paperwork. Archive old stuff you don’t want to get rid of but don’t need immediate access to into cardboard file boxes and put them in storage. Closed bank account records, old credit reports, and your 1996 taxes are good candidates here.

Article by Gina Trapani taken from Lifehacker.com


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