How to Construct a Filing System That Works for You

Constructing a filing system that works for you isn’t about the folder color or style, the label size or shape, or how you arrange the tabs. Although those things are important, constructing a filing system that works for you is really about following the flow of your thoughts. Today, we’re tackling our To File pile and learning how to construct a filing system that works for you!

How to Construct a Filing System That Works For You

How did you do last week with creating your Action Files? Are they helping you to more effectively manage your to-do’s?

If you’re just joining us, welcome! It’s never too late to jump into our Conquer Office Paper Clutter series! Start here, then follow the series’ links at the bottom of each post. Take the steps one at a time until you can kiss paper clutter buh-bye!

Previously, we rounded up and corralled all of our loose papers and paper piles and sorted them into four general categories: To Do, Read, To File, and Trash/Recycle/Shred (read that post HERE).

Today, we’re sorting our To File stack and creating file categories that are completely unique to YOU and your business!

Let’s get started and construct a filing system that works for you.

Sort and File

If parts of this post sound vaguely familiar, it’s because many of the considerations and steps included are similar to those in the first post in this series, The First Step to Conquer Office Paper Clutter.

However, there’s a little magic happening today as you learn how to construct a filing system that works for you!

Hint, hint: it’s all about the flow of your thoughts. 🙂

A Space to Work

As we did in our first step to conquer home office paper clutter, we need to find a space to work.

Sorting your To File stack could take a day or two to a week (or more), depending on the time you have available and the height of your To File pile.

So, find a place where you can work undisturbed for the length of this project. Make sure it’s comfortable!

Sometimes I work on the floor. It’s not the most comfortable spot, and my two mini doxies love to walk on my piles and mess them up, but it gives me lots of space. Other times I work at the dining room table where there’s a little less room but fewer paws shuffling my piles. It’s also more comfortable than the floor.

Sorting Supplies

You’ll need a few basic supplies for the To File stack sorting process (say that 3 times fast!):

  • Your To File Paper Pile
  • A Writing Utensil
  • Sticky Notes
  • A Timer
  • Recycling Bin
  • Shredding Bin
  • Trash Can

You probably have all of these items or comparable options on hand, so round them up and let’s start sorting!

The Sorting Process

How to Construct a Filing System That Works for You | Calyx Organizing

This step in the process is where you truly make this filing system yours!

Start by setting your timer for 15 minutes. This is an ideal time block, because most people can find 15 minutes each day to sort their To File pile. Also, it’s enough time to feel you’ve made progress, but not so much time that you risk burning out and abandoning the project.

Start your timer and grab the first piece of paper on your To File pile.

Ready for the magic?!

What’s the first file name or file category that comes to mind when you see that item?

Write it in the top right hand corner of the paper. Also write it on a sticky note and start a pile for that file name.

Take the next piece of paper and do the same thing: What’s the first file name or file category that pops into your head when you look at the item? Label it in the upper right hand corner, create another sticky note and pile, if necessary, and continue with these steps for each item in your To File pile.

File Naming Examples

Here are a couple of examples to clarify this process:

When I sorted my To File pile, the first item I grabbed was a Mileage Tracker from last month. The file name/category that immediately popped into my head was “Taxes,” because that’s why I track my mileage. You might have thought of “Vehicle” or “Auto” or “Toyota.” The actual name doesn’t matter as long as it makes sense to you!

The second item I grabbed was a page of notes from a conference call with a client. The first file name I thought of was “Client: [Client’s Name].” I don’t know why I thought of it in that pattern, but that’s not the point. I just wrote it down in the top right hand corner of my item and started a pile for that category. Then, when I came across other client-related papers in my To File pile, I wrote “Client:” then the client’s name on it and put it in the correct pile.

The next item I picked up was a blank calendar. I wrote “Planning” in the upper right hand corner, because that’s how I primarily use blank calendars.

Are you beginning to see how this works?

Again, the trick here is to go with the file name or category that first comes to your mind. This is the vital step that will make this filing system all you!

Sort Those Paper Piles!

Okay, now you know how to work the magic that will allow you to construct a filing system that works for you!

Continue to work through your To File pile by assigning a file name or category that makes sense to you, then place the item in its respective pile. Work until your timer goes off.

Then stop and take a break.

Repeat the process, if you have time. Or pick it up tomorrow.

If you get stuck on an item, put it at the bottom of the pile. You will likely have more clarity when you see it the next time.

Try to complete at least one round of sorting each day until your To File stack is organized into unique file names/file categories plucked directly from the flow of your thoughts!

Finalizing File Names

Once you’ve sorted your entire To File stack, go back through your piles and make sure you don’t have any duplicates or redundancies.

Are there any files you can combine?

Any piles that only have an item or two? Can you combine them with another closely related category?

Did you find any categories that made you think, “Huh, I wonder what’s in this pile?” That’s a sign that you need to rethink it. It’s either too broad, or it doesn’t work for you.

Remember: This is All About YOU

This is a really personal part of the conquering office paper clutter process!

I may be perfectly comfortable with 35 files, while that might make you break out into a cold sweat. Really tune into your preferences and honor them. That’s the only way you’ll be able to construct a filing system that works for you!

How to Construct a Filing System That Works For You

And that’s how to construct a filing system that works for you. It’s the process of basic paper sorting with a little magic thrown in.

Follow the flow of your thoughts, categorize items accordingly, and you’ll have a filing system that’s completely functional and unique to YOU and your business!

Next week, we’re (finally) getting into the fun part where all of this time-intensive, hard work pays off….

We’ll be creating our files and file drawer or file box! I’ll see you then!

Conquer Office Paper Clutter Series

This post is part of the Conquer Office Paper Clutter series!

Check out the other posts in the series:

Have questions or need help with a step? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Thanks for joining me for our series on how to Conquer Office Paper Clutter. Here’s to getting our home offices organized and free of paper clutter!

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