Handling Your Paper Files 2: Maintenance Tips

File Cabinet w Hanging Files

In my first post, I covered setting up your filing system.  In this post, I will share tips for maintaining those files.

Up Keeping
Everyone says they hate filing, but if it is done on a schedule rather than being put off, it can be a pleasant way to wind down at the end of a day or work week.  It is best to try to file a document as soon as you are finished with it.  However, this is not always practical especially if the files are not conveniently located for instant filing, try to file every day at the same time, whenever possible.  If there is not a lot of filing to do, pick a particular day of the week to do all your filing.  For daily or weekly filing, have a holding place for file items until it is time to do your filing.

Saving Time
For those files used by multiple people or which contain multiple folders, create markers to hold the location of the file in drawer when it is removed.  These markers may be empty folders labeled “Out”, “In Use”, “Return Here”, or post-it-notes/sticky notes that say the same thing.  Using a marker makes it easy to see that a folder is missing when someone is looking through the files, as well as where to put the folder back to reduce your filing time.  If you wish to further secure files to make sure they are returned, you may want to have an in/out log of who took which file and when it was brought back. 

When Traveling
A copy of the file information sheet or index card may be useful when you r traveling for work includes data review.  When traveling take a folder marked “File” that has the sheet or card stapled to front of it.  Then take another folder marked “Review” which contains documents or articles in it.  After reviewing a document, decide if it is for filing or trashing.  If trash, toss it if it is not a sensitive document.  If it is sensitive, place it in the “File” folder with the word “Destroy” written on it or have a third folder marked “Destroy” for these documents.  Then when returning from trip, destroy the documents appropriately.  If the document is for filing purposes, consult file sheet or card for file categories or names and mark it on the document via writing or post-it-note for where it files upon returning from trip.  Consider buying a set of sturdy plastic folders or pocket folders for this use when on travel. 

Purging and Archiving
Constant file maintenance includes each time a personal file folder is open and if it contains multiple sheets, quickly check through it to see if can toss any outdated materials to thin it.  If not a document control or configuration management requirement to keep old versions, be sure if you are filing revisions or reports to keep only the latest version.  Regular file maintenance is keeping files compact and up-to-date by planning regular times to purge files of old or no longer relevant data.  Purging could occur monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, or yearly depending on needs.  Keep only papers that will be useful later to save space.  Otherwise, trash it.  If you decide to get rid of any files that contain financial or contract data, check with lawyer or accountant first to see if records need to be archived to long-term storage for awhile.  Archive file cabinets and drawers are typically favored for storage of paper files due to their ease of entry.  However, if file drawers are not available or not practical in archival location, consider using boxes to store files on shelves.  Any records in long-term storage should be marked with the year of the data.  If storing archived files in boxes, type up a list of what is in each box.  Make two copies of list.  Secure one copy of list on the outside of the box and then the other in front of box, just in case the outside list tears or comes off.   In addition, mark on the box when records can be tossed so yearly clean up of archives may go faster. 

Going Paperless
Unless necessary, do not keep paper copies of files that may be stored in a computer for quicker and easier access.  Where possible, transfer any paper files to computer disks via scanning to prevent having to keep files full of papers. 

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