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Organize for Easy Access

Say goodbye to your glutted in-box and stacks of paper with these six easy steps.

By Laura Leist

Do you pile instead of file? Is your desk overflowing with mounds of paperwork? Your in-box glutted with emails? You’ll probably never need most of that information. In fact, 82 percent of the information we keep, whether paper-based or electronic, will never be referenced again. So, here are six easy steps to help your office get organized, increase productivity and help with information retrieval:

Step No. 1: The “delete” key is your friend. When processing your email, quickly decide if you need to respond, file or delete an email. If the information is not useful, delete it before you move on to the next email. Your in-box should only contain email that is waiting for a response or is waiting to be filed.

Step No. 2: Create “filing cabinets” in your in-box. Creating your own sub-files for your in-box is like creating “filing cabinets” for your electronic information. An organized system for filing email is essential if you want to find and use the information again. It is important that the names you give your files are descriptive and have some consistency. You could create files based on projects, people, associations, volunteer work, clients, prospects or a combination of several.

Step No. 3: “My Documents” should not be used as a “one-size-store-all” location. Storing all of your documents in “My Documents” file on your desktop can make it difficult to find a document when you need it. Instead, create multiple files and sub-files to store documents.

When setting up these files, you will want to go from the very general to the specific. See the following example and naming conventions on how you may wish to set up your files:

  • Work Files (Folder that contains all work files)
    • Administration (Sub-file of Work Files)
    • Advertising (Sub-file of Work Files)
      • Brochures (Sub-file of Advertising)
      • Internet (Sub-file of Advertising)
        • Google PPC (Sub-file of Internet)

Step No. 4: Use consistent “naming conventions” for computer files. Naming files in a consistent manner allows you to quickly locate what you need. When you name files, go from the very general to the specific. For example:

  • Administrative Assistant May 2005.doc
  • Bookkeeper January 2001.doc
  • Client Services Manager December 2000.doc
  • Consultant March 2001.doc
  • Consultant – Senior March 2001.doc
  • Executive Assistant June 2003.doc

Eighty-two percent of the information we keep, whether paper-based or electronic, will never be referenced again.

In this example, the name of the position begins the file name. Then, to be certain when the job description was last written or updated, a date has been included. Notice how there are two “Consultant” job descriptions. By naming them both with the word “Consultant,” they stay together in the file folder, rather than one being further down the list if it were named Senior Consultant March 2001.doc.

Step No. 5: The recycling bin and shredder are also your friends. Are you hanging on to documents, articles, magazines or other information because you are going to read them “someday”? Be realistic—if the information has been sitting in piles on your desk or the surrounding floor for a while, you’ll probably never get around to reading it. So, save only the information that you will refer to in the future. Here are some examples of what you may find in those piles and how to store them:

  • a website that you want to later check out—in such cases, add it to your “Favorites” in your Internet Browser.
  • a tip—it could be stored in a file called “Tips” or more specifically, the type of tip. This way, you are not saving the entire magazine or article for that one tip.
  • a product you wish to buy someday—create a file folder or envelope for potential purchases.

Step No. 6: Keep your to-do list in one location. If you are a paper person, get a small journal to keep your to-do list in—that way it’ll all be in one compact place. Action items written on things like sticky notes can also be easily put in the book, or a business card can be paper clipped or stapled into the journal’s “call” section.

By implementing these steps, your office will become a fine-tuned operation, with papers filed away, desks clear and employees organized and productive.

Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Laura Leist is an organizational and productivity consultant, trainer and speaker. For over 15 years, she has helped corporations, small businesses and individuals across America improve efficiency through technology, paper management and time management. Leist serves on the board of directors of the National Association of Professional Organizers and was recognized as one of Washington State’s 40 Under 40 Entrepreneurs in 2001. For more information, call 425-670-2551 or email


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