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How to Organize Files in a Filing Cabinet

by Michelle Roberts

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Organized wood file cabinet

Things You Need:

  • Recycling bin
  • Cardboard file boxes
  • File folders
  • File tabs
  • Tape

A filing cabinet is meant to be a convenience. But if not managed well, a messy file cabinet can cause more stress than it prevents. A filing cabinet isn't just for protecting important documents, it's for keeping things organized so you can easily find them when you need to. While it may take a few hours to organize an unorganized file cabinet, the stress and frustration it will save you in the future is worth it.

Organizing a File Cabinet:

  1. Take the time: Set aside about two hours for each drawer. The condition and size of your filing cabinet will likely determine how long it will take you to organize your files. Schedule enough time to complete the project before needing to use your files.

  2. Do your own thing: Let go of any preconceived notions about how a filing cabinet should be set up. Your system only has to make sense to you. Use as few categories as possible to avoid having files that might fall into more than one category. Five or six are ideal. More may leave you feeling like you're only shuffling the confusion. Use colored markers or tabs to prioritize your tasks in each category.

  3. Empty your filing cabinet: Put your files in cardboard file boxes so you can easily work through them one at a time. Take everything out so you can re-file the documents you're keeping as you go.

  4. Handle each piece of paper only once: Inspect the document. Assign it a category and priority, and file it. Remember, trash is a legitimate category. Purge your files of outdated and duplicate documents. Throw away everything that isn't a necessity or that you are required by law to keep.

  5. Keep it up to date: Schedule a regular time to maintain your newly organized filing cabinet to keep it from getting out of hand again. File or re-file documents that have accumulated in your work space and throw away anything that is outdated or has been digitally stored and backed-up.

Filing Tip:

  1. Repair any torn documents before you re-file them.

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