The first response I usually have when someone asks “what do you organize” is “Paperwork”. After working my way through hundreds of hours of paperwork these are the five common filing mistakes that I notice again and again.
If your files are digital you can apply the same process to your digital systems.
The first mistake I notice is have NO system at all, bags and/or boxes are a jumbled mess. There can be many reasons for not having a system, including lack of “office” space or some kind of interruption in physical health or home (moving, remodeling etc). Some people don’t need a whole filing cabinet but even the paperwork minimalist’s should have a small fire safe box of essential documents at minimum.
The second mistake (this one doesn’t apply to digital files so you can skip it!) some make because they don’t like the look of filing cabinets or don’t think they can afford the space in their homes. There are a ton of attractive file drawers, some made to look like furniture and in complete disguise. If you don’t end up needing a whole file cabinet, just a drawer or a box may do just fine. I did a round up of stylish filing cabinets here if you’re looking for some ideas.
The third mistake I see are overly complicated systems. Most people don’t need more than 10-20 over-arching categories (finance, vehicles, investments, medical, insurance etc) with sub-categories under each. In this way, it’ becomes easy to go to the “financial” section and find the specific bank or investment you’re looking for. Create a quick list of the paperwork you tend to keep and group them by category for an idea of what your system may need to include. This works equally well for digital files and sub-files.
The example below is beautifully labeled but the “Alphabetical” system is so detailed without broad categories that it may be impossible for anyone but the person who created it to find anything. That’s something to keep in mind, be sure other people using the system will also be able to understand it. Too much detail or too complicated=total frustration & a failed system!
The less you have, the less you have to maintain and the easier it is to find what you need when you need it.
The fourth mistake (similar to third) is systems that are too vague and don’t capture categories clearly. A box labeled “files” or paperwork is one such example, when you open it, you can’t find anything because there is no order to what you’re keeping. I go into more detail here about creating filing categories.
The fifth and final mistake I’ll mention is that some people may never become “filers”. For such folks, using a binder or other creative filing system may be the key.
Striking the right balance when creating a filing system can be the key to maintaining it. There are a lot of different filing systems out there including tickler systems, the Freedom filer and more but in my experience, it’s finding the most simple system for the paperwork you need to keep that will work best for you. One category that everyone should keep on hand are vital documents. Check out my post that break’s down the essentials everyone needs to keep on hand and safe.