Of course, you have a filing system in place! Except it’s not up-to-date… You got married, had children, bought a house, signed up for new insurance policies etc. but never revisited it or maintained multiple filing systems in parallel. Or you never purged your files and are no longer able to fit another piece of paper in it so it ends up in a pile or is randomly filed. So how to refresh it so you can instantly find anything you need, without even arguing with your spouse?
Well the truth is, even if you do already have a filing system in place, it’ll be more efficient and effective to start from scratch rather than trying to tweak your existing system(s).
Clear an area big enough to allow you to sort your papers into various piles. Then go through your home and gather all the papers from your dining table, your kitchen countertops, your desktop etc. into one place.
Start with the most recent and active documents, likely the ones you’ve found on a flat surface such as your desktop or countertops. You’ll deal with your backlog and your current files later. After all, they’ve been there for months or maybe years, so they can wait a big longer, don’t you think?
Take one paper at a time and decide what you need to do with it:
1/ Do you need to keep it? No? Throw it right away.
2/ Do you need to keep it because you need to take some action? Yes? Write the action in your to-do list. Reassess whether you can get rid of the paper. If you do need to keep it until you’ve completed the action, put it into an action file.
3/ Do you need it to keep it but for reference only?
Yes? Sort the papers you decide to keep into piles. Make sure all the papers face the same way with the most recent one on top.
Use post-its to label the piles. Choose a name for the file with retrieval in mind, based on whatever words would first come to your mind when you would want to retrieve the file. For example, you may refer to your car by Your name’s car, or by its plate number, or by its brand and model etc.
Once you’ve sorted your papers into piles, combine them in categories. There’re various ways to categorise. You could have a category for Health records, and inside a file for each family member. Or you could have a category for each family member and inside a file for Health records, School records etc.
Create a master index of all your files. Indicate the category they belong to, how long you need (or want to) keep them and their location (paper, digital or safety box). Print it and keep it with your files. Give one to your spouse. That way, you’ll not only save time to file or retrieve a document but also avoid creating duplicate files.
Keep your action files into a magazine holder on your desk as you’ll need to access them frequently. Your reference files can be kept in a filing cabinet, or on a shelf in magazine holders or binders. Whichever option you choose, remember to FILE, NEVER EVER PILE. A pile attracts clutter and makes it difficult to find a document when you need it.
If you file some of your documents electronically, use the same naming convention and filing structure as for your paper files.
Work with your files for one week or two in case you need to change the name of a file or a category or move a file from one category to another. Then label your file folders properly.
Maintain your filing system by purging regularly. If possible, apply the one in one out rule: when you file your latest phone bill on the top, discard the oldest one at the bottom.
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This post was first published on Expat Insurance website.