A Quick Guide to Keeping an Effective Filing System

An example of an effective filing system in the office.

Published September 27th, 2019

Have you had that annoying moment when you can’t find a file you desperately need? Only for it to turn up when you’re not looking for it anymore?

That, my friend, is a sign that you need to upgrade your office’s filing system.

An ineffective filing system not only ruins your day. It affects your productivity too. Instead of doing your job, you’re wasting precious time looking for a file.

Whether you’re the only one accessing the files or sharing it with the whole team, an effective filing system makes life easier. For one, there’ll be no finger-pointing as to who has the file. Also, you don’t run the risk of being drowned in an endless stack of papers.

The problem with most filing systems is it’s not even a system. Putting labels on folders won’t make it. A filing system should have a holistic approach for it to be sustainable. All bases must be covered, as they say.

If you’re not sure how to keep an effective filing system, here are some great tips for you.


Decide on a Retrieval System

One of the first considerations when making a filing system is deciding how you want to retrieve your files. Do you want to retrieve them by date? Degree of importance? Event? Client? Where it originated? The answers to these questions will help you decide how to sort and categorize your files.


When you’ve finally decided on a retrieval system, you’ll be able to figure out your filing categories. The next step would be to subcategorize them. Break down major categories into smaller categories. Like if you choose dates as categories, break them into years or months.

Get Rid of Unnecessary Documents

One common mistake people make when filing is keeping all the documents they have. Determine which documents will still be useful in the future. Get rid of the unnecessary ones.

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Be Consistent With Your Labeling System

This practice helps avoid confusion and allows easy identification of files. If you’re using color-coded labels, stick with that for all your folders. Or if you’re putting the labels on the front of the envelope, stay consistent. That way, you’ll be able to identify a folder at a glance.

Make Sure Your Label is Readable

If you don’t have the resources to invest in a good label maker, make sure that your label is readable. Choose clear, bold fonts instead of cursive ones. Make sure they’re large enough to be read from afar.

For colored fonts, use bright, bold colors instead of pastels. If you’re using a colored paper, make sure that it provides a stark contrast to your font color.


Keep Related Documents Together

For easy retrieval of files, keep related documents together. For example, store financial documents like receipts and invoices in one drawer. This practice makes it easier to locate where the files are stored, especially if there are multiple filing cabinets.

Invest in Filing Cabinets

If you want your files to be organized and secured, invest in effective filing system cabinets. There are a lot of waterproof and fireproof cabinets available in the market right now. Make sure that they’re enough to contain all your files. Don’t forget to take into account your future storage requirements.

Avoid Overfilling Folders

When a folder is packed full, chances are the documents will stick out of it and block the label tabs. This will make it hard to read the labels on them.

Besides, having a lot of files in one folder defeats the purpose of filing. It will still take you a long time to sort through all those papers and find the one you need.

Set an Expiry Date

As we’ve said earlier, you need to get rid of unnecessary files. That’s why it’s essential to set an expiry date for your documents. Most organizations use a 5-year limit. If a document is older than that, then off to the trash they go.

Of course, it still depends on the nature of the document. If they’re still useful to you even after ten years, then you don’t have to get rid of it. What’s important is you make room in the filing cabinet for all the new files that you have. Keeping outdated and unusable documents is a waste of storage space.

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Judy Ponio is an author for BocaExecuSpace.

About The Author

is a firm believer in the power of productivity and she wants to share that with the world. She also loves to write about work related topics and other productivity tips.