If you have been following along with my ongoing series Project Organization, you know that I have been tackling my filing gone crazy…crazy full. I have been purging, which you can find tips on how to purge your own files in my post here. But what do you do if your purging means you just go back to a system of, “I can’t find anything.” That doesn’t make sense. That’s where, I feel at least, systems becoming so important. Good systems.
What’s a System?
“System” basically means a repeatable and teachable process. A system in and of itself doesn’t mean that it is efficient or that it is even a good thing. After all, I can create a system where I pay all my bills at the end of the month. That’s a system. Its repeatable and I could teach someone to do the same but I might not get all my bills paid on time. To me, that begs the question:
What’s a Good System?
Not only is a good system repeatable and teachable, it is efficient in its process, easily replicable (i.e. organized), simple but most definitely achieves the results desired. Good systems make business AND homes function easier and with better results. On my business side, I learned this early on and knew that I would need good systems in place in order to manage all my business hats. It was through my business I was introduced to Marva Ruot and the concept of “nature of the business” thinking with respect to organization and systems. And I full believe that which we learn and incorporate into our lives in one area is bound to spill over into the other areas of our lives, positive or negative. And that is what happened when it came to the organization of my filing system. Business spilled into personal.
What Doesn’t Work
In my opinion, traditional filing of alphabetical filing doesn’t work. Nor does having a new file for every little thing. After a while, your drawers go crazy and piles begin to happen. I suspect that many times two things happen when it comes to filing. One, we become “Afraid” that if we file it, we will never remember where we filed it and therefore it has sunken into some black abyss. So it sits on our desk, or floor, or by the chair and so on. Two, there is no more room in the filing cabinet and you just keep adding to the pile. Either way, the thing missing is a good system.
What Does Work
Problem #1: Can’t find it
Nature of the business filing works to resolve the first problem. Over the years, I have taken this concept and developed a highly functioning and efficient system for both my personal and professional lives. Start by defining the broad nature of your business. What’s your job? Using me as an example:
- Mary Kay Representative
- Home Owner
For this purpose, I am going to leave business me alone. Rather, I’m going to focus on mom, wife, home owner. What do I do daily or in my role as mom? What kinds of roles relate to the paperwork I receive? Note: some of these will involve other systems beside filing but for now, I’m only going to tackle filing. However, nature of the business thinking works for most, if not all, systems.
- Home Coordinator – meaning I either manage or do many of the home improvement projects, mortgage, warranties, etc.
- Academic and Extra Curricular Advisor – assist with children’s education and other activities, school records, etc.
- Records Keeper – handle ALL paperwork, including medical, taxes, memberships, etc.
- Pet Mom – vet records, adoption records, etc.
- Bookkeeper and accountant – manage accounts and budget
- Planning Coordinator – Future things
- Taxi Cab and Errand Girl – Automotive , Banking, etc.
- Entertainment Coordinator – book vacations, manage subscriptions, etc.
- Nurse and Triage – handle the cuts scraps, doctor and dental appointments, etc.
- Family Meal Planner – Coupons, Eating out, Take out, etc.
And I’m sure that there are many, many more duties/roles we all as mom fill but these will suffice by now. What helped in this process, was to look at my existing files. I wrote down what things stood out to me and as I looked at them, roles or duties began to come to mind. Systems need to be repeatable yet flexible and broad enough so as new roles and duties arise, the system can be tweak to accommodate for them. For example, I had to modify mine when home owner, mom and wife added to my roles. What once worked, needed to be expanded, not discarded, in order to accommodate the new roles.
Next, all paper work has two inherent types of business. It is either something that is filed and “referenced” on occasion or as needed. Or it is something that passes through your hands frequently, or rather, is “active”. Therefore, you will have two types of files – either Active or Reference.
An example of an active file would be coupons. I handle my coupons weekly as I shop. Having them at hand is extremely helpful. These types of files (active) should be in your desk. It makes it really easy to quickly file an item as soon as you are done with it.
An example of reference filing would be children’s school records. Generally speaking, you get stuff from the school and it is rarely touched again and the bulk of it comes in during the first part of the year. Another would be mortgage paper work. Once you get loan approval, odds are you probably won’t be looking at it again. In both cases, you really don’t need ready access to them. Getting up and filing something once in a while, not such an imposition.
So now knowing that paper is essentially active or reference and knowing your roles, it about putting the files together in a manner that makes it easy to not only file (since basically filing is reading a tab) but also that is easy to recall where it is at should you need it. I did this by first, making a list of everything I needed to file. Again, looking at existing files is helpful.
- Bank A Checking Joe
- Bank A Savings Joe
- Bank B Family Checking
- Bank B Family Savings
- Bank B Checking Danielle
- Bank B Savings Andrew
- ABC Card
- XYZ Card
…and so on. This list did take me a little while.
Next, was to decide what was reference and what was active. What I found out was that some where both! For example, mortgage. I made monthly mortgage payments which for me is an active file BUT I also had all our mortgage paperwork. Ultimately, I would need two files. I did this for the whole list. Once done, it was time to determine what area of business did they fall in.
Look at your roles and decide the best category title to describe the nature or topic of the business. Looking at my roles and what I do up above, my broad categories for filing consist of the following:
- Employment and Income
- Health and Life
- Pet Records
- Tax Information
- Retirement and Planning
- Government Records
Can you see from my roles how these broad topics were determined? Next is to take these categories and determine what files you already have and those you know you need and put them into each category. For example:
Main Category: Home
Files: Insurance, Earthquake Insurance, HOA, Mortgage, Mortgage payments, Home Title, Property Tax, Improvements, Future Projects, Preparedness, Inspiration, Cable, Electric, Gas, Internet and Home Line, Cellphones, Pest Control, Security System, Water, and so on.
Looking at these, determine if there are subcategories. For example, there are several files that fall under the general category of utilities and services, and insurances. Label them as such. Lastly, mark each file as reference or active (if there is something you want at hand or need to have at hand. These take a little time to do and some thought so give it just that. Next post, I will talk about putting it all together.
Problem #2: No Room
Typically this is a case of a need of purging. Make sure to check out my post on purging. However, that does not mean that these documents are not needed. That is why creating dead storage is so important. Dead storage is basically a file cabinet or a box or boxes where you put files that you don’t need access to in your office or office area but are not quite ready to be thrown away. Dead files are created in a similar manner but are based on your filing system in your office. I will talk more about setting this up in the next post on putting it all together.
See you next post.