How To Organize Your Paperwork Effectively in 7 Steps

Updated October 19, 2022

two people read over paperwork

Some jobs require professionals to possess the ability to manage a large volume and variety of documents. When handling digital or physical paperwork, it's essential to organize your files and workspace in a way that supports your productivity and increases your efficiency. Understanding how to organize documents is a skill you can use both at home and at work in almost any profession.

In this article, we explain seven easy steps you can follow to better organize your paperwork in a way that's both efficient and conducive to productivity in your newly organized workspace.

How to organize your paperwork

If you want to learn how to organize your paperwork, follow these seven steps:

1. Separate documents by type

Sort your physical documents into categories such as reports, client documents or billing invoices. You can further separate each category into levels of subtypes. For example, you can sort client documents based on each client before organizing a single client's documents into reports, correspondence and more. This layered sorting strategy can help you identify what documents to keep and organize for easy access.

If you find documents that don't fit into a major category, make a miscellaneous stack along with a pile of documents you intend to shred or recycle. It's also wise to make a stack of documents that you want to convert into digital files. Starting with a simple survey and categorization of your documents can help initiate the filing process.

Read more: 7 Valued Administrative Skills That Can Help Your Career

2. Use chronological and alphabetical order

Some documents are time-stamped and dated to keep track of activities and decisions within the organization. Once separated by type and subtype, consider sorting each document in chronological order if applicable. For example, if you sort your documents by client, consider placing dated documents in order from newest to oldest so the most recent documents are in front. You can also order the documents from oldest to newest if you would rather see the client's full history to date. 

You can organize undated documents by importance or by how frequently you use them. Finally, consider alphabetizing your documents before placing them into your filing space. You can alphabetize by client name or by major categories like invoices or reports.

Related: 20 Simple Ways To Organize a Desk

3. Organize your filing space

Filing cabinets and drawers can offer customizable storage space. Use file folders to store groups of documents based on their type and subtype. You can continue using chronological or alphabetical order when placing folders into cabinets or drawers. For example, you can sort alphabetically by client name or chronologically by the most recent client you acquired. Storing paperwork away from your workspace helps keep your desk clear for you to complete tasks more efficiently.

Consider investing in a file shelf to place on your desk to organize documents you review or access regularly, such as forms you fill out every day. You can assign each shelf a specific type or subtype to maintain categorization. You can also use the shelf to streamline your filing process as you receive new documents. Separate new files into a few major categories, and place them on the appropriate shelf. This method can make it easier when you file them away later.

Related: 14 Ways To Get Organized at Work

4. Color-code your filing system

Visual markers, such as colored tabs, can save you time when browsing for documents. You can use different colored folders for your various types and subtypes of documents. Some folders include label tabs in various colors. With either of these options, you can create a color-coded key to keep track of the color assigned to the document category. For example, you might color-code documents you use regularly with a yellow tab and documents that you need to file with a red tab to inspire a sense of urgency.

5. Label your filing system

Labeling your document categories can help you quickly identify your intended folder. Some folders come with paper to make your own labels. You can further optimize your labeling system by using different colored pens or ink that match your color-coded key. You can also use highlighters on black text to color code the label. Label makers can also allow you to quickly print out single-label stickers. This tool is especially helpful when labeling a filing shelf or cabinet, or if you want to replace current labels with new ones.

Related: 15 Jobs With No Paperwork for an Active Career

6. Dispose of unnecessary documents

Creating an organized filing system can help you reduce the amount of paperwork you store. Recycle documents that are no longer relevant in order to reduce clutter, or shred them for extra security. Consider placing a small recycling can or a dedicated basket for documents you want to shred near your desk. Regularly disposing of unnecessary files and documents can help keep your workspace clean and organized. It helps prevent build-ups that might also become fire or trip hazards.

7. Digitize files

In some cases, it might be more efficient to convert physical documents into digital files stored on your computer. Doing so can make them easily accessible, shareable and reduces clutter. Scan paperwork into digital documents for storage in organized folders on your computer. Consider following the same steps you took when creating a physical filing system:

  1. Sort by type and subtype.

  2. Use chronological and alphabetical order to organize files.

  3. Color-code by type and subtype using the file color or flag feature on your operating system.

  4. Label documents clearly with type or subtype and document date, if applicable. An efficient document titling system might look like this: “Client ABC_Invoice_Mar2021.”

Digitizing files can allow you to quick-search documents on your computer. It also reduces clutter and the need for physical storage space. With an established procedure in place, you can streamline your workflow, reduce stress and increase productivity. Even if you already have an organization system, consider taking time on a regular basis for upkeep and maintenance, as it can be easy for files to build up during busy times.


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