Action items are a type of paperwork that needs attention, like reminders of appointments, or a bill that’s coming due.
One common mistake people make when organizing their paperwork is keeping action items out to help them remember. Put away the paper and keep the reminder. Keeping an action item on your desk leads to clutter. Have a specific place for action items, so you know where to look for them when it is time to take that action.
Have a reminder system in place. You can set a reminder on your phone, write it in a paper planner, or use one of the action item systems below, and put the paper away.
Organizing business paperwork takes dedication and consistency, but once you have systems in place and you (and your employees) use them, it becomes a routine part of business life. Here are my ways to make organizing business paperwork go more smoothly.
1. Shred it and Forget it
When paperwork is past its “keep until” date, shred it if it has personal information. If you have a small business you may be fine with a small shredder. For larger businesses, there are also services like Shred-It that pick up shreddable materials and turn them into recycled paper.
2. New Year, New Folders
At the beginning of your financial year, create new folders you can use throughout the year. Keep in mind the 5-20 rule! Any folder with fewer than 5 items in it should be combined with another, and any folder with more than 20 should be subdivided into other folders. This streamlines searching for documents, saving you time and money!
Why organize your paperwork? Organizing your paperwork clears piles of paper cluttering your space, helps you find information efficiently, keeps you on top of bills and to-dos, and avoids late fees, missed deadlines, and wasting time. Organize your paperwork to reduce stress, have a clear mind, and focus on what matters.
The first step toward fully organized paperwork is to sort. When I am clearing someone’s desk, we use use RAFTS to sort paperwork. What does RAFTS stand for?
Set achievable business goals with my SMART PATH system.
Running a business can be tough. People like to be challenged, but not overwhelmed. How do you make sure your business goals are engaging and realistic?
Tackling too much
Having big dreams for your business is great! But just like making a New Year’s resolution to never eat a carbohydrate again, or to go from never jogging to a marathon winner by February, if the bar is set too high, the chance of burnout or failure increases.
So, how do you make progress without burnout?
In my experience, it’s difficult to make progress until you pay attention to the process rather than the end goal. Instead of making major changes immediately, I advise business owners to break their goals down into the SMART PATH system.You’ve likely heard of SMART goals, and adding the PATH to achieving them increases productivity without sacrificing morale.
Lets get you set up to maintain your filing system!
Now that you’ve got your filing system set up and your action items in their proper places, it’s up to you to keep it that way! The best way to keep clutter from coming back is to maintain your filing system. Some tips on maintaining your filing system:
If you have temporary files, file them by month and year, which allows for quick archiving.
Purge your files regularly—I recommend at least annually. You could do it every six months or every quarter to cut down on the time it takes to purge.
File at least weekly, more often if you are a paper-intensive home. Ideally it’s best to file things as soon as possible, but setting aside time each week that’s dedicated to filing will make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
A lot of clients have tons of paperwork because they’re not sure how long they’re supposed to keep it. So how do you know what to hang on to, and what to shred? Different documents have different expiration dates.
Lifetime: Keep this paperwork for the life of the item. Ownership documents like car titles and deeds belong in this category. Once you no longer have the item, and are sure you won’t need to refer to the paperwork, then you can let it go.
Permanent: These things should be kept forever, like your social security card. Things that are crucial and difficult to replace go in this category.
The whole point of filing is to find paperwork fast! If your filing system is chaotic, you’re making yourself work harder. I don’t want that for you! Dial down the difficulty when searching for paperwork by using these tips.
Having standardized terminology for your files keeps search time to a minimum, with both digital and physical files. For physical files, use consistent dates and names. You want to make it easy on your eyes to follow along as you look through the files. If you’re looking through the files you have on home maintenance, and most of your files are labeled like “2020 Repair Bills,” and a few are named like, “Housekeeping – 2020,” you’re making your brain do extra work when you search. Keep it consistent, and save your brainpower for something more fun!
To make searching for digital files easier, include multiple search terms in the file name. Think about what you’ll want to know when you’re trying to find it. If you’re looking for a particular bank statement, what search terms would you use to find it? Adding the bank name, the account name, and the statement date means you can find it three different ways!
Paper Files: 5-20 Items Rule of Thumb
Use cascading hierarchies when creating your paper files. For instance, you could keep all your insurance paperwork together in one hanging folder, and have paperwork for the individual policies in separate interior folders. This means you only have one place to go to look for anything regarding insurance, and if you know which policy you’re looking for you can narrow it down even further. Instead of flipping through dozens of different pieces of paper, you can go right to what you’re looking for.
It’s hard to find paperwork fast when your files are three inches thick. The best rule of thumb I have for keeping hierarchies neat and easy to use is this: If you have fewer than five items in one category, that’s a sign that you could condense it with another. More than twenty items should be split up into subcategories.
For instance, say you have files relating to places you want to travel to. If you only want to go to New Zealand and visit Lord of the Rings locations, you only need one folder. If you want to go to every state in the US and have paperwork about each state you want to visit, then a folder for each state will be helpful. This helps avoid overstuffed folders that are difficult to look through and avoids having unnecessary folders as well.
Make it even easier on yourself by using labeling, color coding, or different locations for these categories. If you use your labels or colors consistently, soon you’ll be able to see what you’re looking for at a glance.