How To Organize Your Paperwork in 7 Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 20, 2021 | Published October 7, 2019

Updated September 20, 2021

Published October 7, 2019

Some jobs require the ability to deal with a large volume and variety of documents. When handling digital or physical paperwork, it is essential to organize your files and workspace in a way that supports your productivity and increases your efficiency. This article explores methods of creating an efficient filing system for your workplace.

How to organize documents

The following steps can guide you in sorting, categorizing and storing your physical paperwork and help you design an effective filing system:

  1. Separate documents by type.

  2. Use chronological and alphabetical order.

  3. Organize the filing space.

  4. Color-code your filing system.

  5. Label your filing system.

  6. Dispose of unnecessary documents.

  7. Digitize files.

Let’s explore each of these steps in more detail so you can apply this simple organization system in your own workplace.

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 do not fit into a major category, make a miscellaneous stack along with a pile of documents you intend to shred or recycle. It is 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: Administrative Skills: Definition and Examples for 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. Whichever method you choose, make sure that you select a system that feels natural and fits within your current workflow.

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. Each shelf can be assigned 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.

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 either hand-write the labels or print out a sheet of typed labels all at once.

You can further optimize your labeling system by using different colored pens or ink that match your color-coded key. Highlighters can also be used 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 need to replace current labels with new ones.

6. Dispose of unnecessary documents

Creating an organized filing system can help you find ways to 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.

Related: 5 Key Tips for Improving Your Time Management Skills

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, sendable and reduces clutter. If this is the case, 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.

While creating a system for navigating paperwork can feel overwhelming, you can make steady progress if you follow this process and focus on each step. With an established procedure in place, you can streamline your workflow, reduce stress and increase productivity. Even if you already have an organization system, it is wise to set aside time on a regular basis for upkeep and maintenance, as it is easy for files to build up during busy times.

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