No matter what level you work at in the administrative support field, whether you’re a receptionist or a C-Level Executive Assistant, you are going to end up doing filing. That’s just the way it is. When you work with documents, you have to know where to file those documents for later retrieval. Most of what I will discuss in this series should apply equally to paper as well as electronic files. There are a few things that will apply to one or the other, and I will point that out at the time.
Many times, we let our filing system grow up around us rather than designing an organized system from the start, so our files end up being something akin to organized chaos.
Obviously, we use files to hold documents, but why are we keeping those papers anyway? The purpose of a filing system is to be able to retrieve those papers when we need them. If our system isn’t organized in an easily understood system, then we’re going to spend way too much time looking for papers we need later.
A filing system should be set up in such a way that any one can easily find documents they need even if she’s never been inside that filing cabinet before. Remember, if you get hit by a truck, someone needs to be able to come in behind you and manage your files.
The first step in setting up a filing system is to decide on what type of filing system you need. Essentially, you have two choices for filing systems when you organize your files: category or index.
A Category system is based on just that, categories. When you set up a category system, you’ll start with a set of broad upper level categories, and them break each category down into smaller sub-categories, which can then be broken down further into sub-categories if you need. You will want to limit the number of levels of sub-categories you use. I’ve found that more than three levels just gets confusing, and in electronic files you can run into long-name errors in Windows as you add levels to your directories. Most people use this form of filing system for general files. The benefit of a Category system is that it allows you to find a file even if you don’t know exactly how it is named, and you can pull whole all the files in a category easily if need be.
In an Indexed system, every file is assigned a distinguishing identifier, such as a number or name, and the files are sorted by the identifier. This form of filing system is best used for keeping specific types of files such as for patients, vendors, or customers. The benefit of this type of filing system is you can use color coding for the files, and can tell at a glance if a file folder is misfiled.
In my next post, I’ll talk about Active vs. Historical files.