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7 Tips for Effective File Management

Managing Your Documents... and Your Time

7 Steps to Effective File Management - Organizing Your Documents... and Your Time

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Elenathewise

Keep your files at your fingertips!

Have you ever kept someone waiting while you searched the piles of papers on your desk for an important document? Or struggled to meet a deadline because you've lost a vital computer file?

Whether you work with paper documents, electronic files, or a mixture of both, it's vital to keep them organized and accessible. That way you can save time looking for things, and always have the right information to hand when you need it.

Managing Information

When you receive a document from a co-worker, vendor, or customer, it's tempting to "just put it away" in a pile on your desk or drawer, or to keep it in your email inbox or downloads folder. "Hmm. Looks interesting, but I'll take a closer look at this later, when I've got more time." Sound familiar?

After a while, many such documents build up, leading to clutter. And it becomes less and less likely that you'll ever find time to go back and get all of that information organized.

Meanwhile, you can spend lots of precious time searching for documents that have got lost in all the mess.

So why not take a different approach, to ensure that you're always confident of finding things when you need them?

Effective File Management

Here are seven ways to manage your documents and files efficiently and effectively:

1. Avoid saving unnecessary documents.

Don't make a habit of saving everything that finds its way to you. Take a few seconds to glance through the content, and keep a file only if it's relevant to your work activity, or required by your business. Having too many unnecessary documents adds to clutter and makes it harder to find things in the future.

2. Follow a consistent method for naming your files and folders.

For instance, divide a main folder into subfolders for customers, vendors, and co-workers. Use shortened names to identify what or who the folders relate to. You can even use color coding to make it easier to identify different categories of folders.

3. Store related documents together, whatever their type.

For example, store reports, letters, presentation notes, spreadsheets, and graphics related to a particular project in a single folder – rather than having one folder for presentations for all projects, another folder for spreadsheets for all projects, and so on. That way, you'll be much faster finding documents for a particular project.

4. Separate ongoing work from completed work.

Some people prefer to keep current or ongoing work on their desk or computer desktop until a job is completed. Then, once it's done, they move it to the appropriate location, where files of the same category are stored. At periodic intervals (for example, weekly or every two weeks), move files you're no longer working on to the folders where your completed work is stored.

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5. Avoid overfilling folders.

If you have a large number of files in one folder, or a large number of subfolders in a main folder, break them into smaller groups (subfolders or sub-subfolders). For instance, you could divide a folder called "Business Plan" into subfolders called "BP2021," "BP2022," and "BP2023." Likewise, you might divide a folder for a client named Delta Traders into subfolders named "Delta Traders sales presentations" and "Delta Traders contracts." The idea is to place every file into a logical folder or subfolder, rather than have one huge list of files.

6. Organize documents by date.

Make sure that the date of a document is clear, by highlighting it or adding it to a paper document, or including it in the title of an electronic one. That will help you to organize your documents chronologically, without having to open each one. And you'll then be able to find them more easily in future.

7. Make digital copies of paper documents.

This is useful if you don't have much space to store paper documents; you want to archive documents without destroying them completely; you need to share documents electronically; or you want to make your information storage more secure. (This won't be appropriate for all types of documents, though – for example, legal contracts or documents with original signatures – so use your best judgment here.)

Tip:

For any system to be useful and effective, it must also be convenient for you. To some extent, this depends on the nature of your business or the work that you do. So, although there's no "one size fits all" solution to file management, you'll likely profit by using some of these file-management tips, and by customizing them to best serve your needs.

Key Points

It pays to organize all your documents carefully – both paper and electronic files – so that you can find them quickly and easily.

Our seven top tips for doing this are:

1. Avoid saving unnecessary documents.

2. Follow a consistent method for naming your files and folders.

3. Store related documents together, whatever their type.

4. Separate ongoing work from completed work.

5. Avoid overfilling folders.

6. Organize documents by date.

7. Make digital copies of paper documents.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (45)
  • Over a month ago wrote
    The art of filing and effective information saving.
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi sonrosa,

    Welcome to the Club and to the forums too. As one of the Mind Tools team, I’m here to help you here in and the forums, and to get the very most from the club. Thank you for the positive feedback. It's good to hear that you enjoyed the article, and I will definitely check out Allen's Getting Things Done.
  • Over a month ago sonrosa wrote
    I read Allen's Getting things done and his guiding is really helpful, this article's information help strengthen his structure well, for me :) . Thank you!
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