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photo from Microsoft Clip Art

April 15-21 is 0rganize Your Files Week. While it’s a bit late to make any difference for tax day, there is still plenty of time to organize your other files. I’m not thinking computer files, which I suck at organizing (I have doubles all over the hard drives), but paper files, which I’m not much better at. One of my goals for this year was to deal with some of the many piles of paper in my office that need to be organized. I’m still working on that. I figure slow and steady like the tortoise might win me this P.H.D (Pile it Higher and Deeper) race instead of marathon sessions.

In the meantime, here are some handy tips I’ve used to conquer my piles, at least some of them.

  • Buy a file cabinet … or two … or three … or four. I have seven and it’s still not enough. I’m on the hunt for another one, which makes my poor husband want to pull out his hair. He’s more of a pitch-it-out or keep it on the computer type. That’s why we could never share an office, and why I always get the bigger one. After all, those file drawers take up a lot of space.
  • Divide your file cabinets into categories. One cabinet (or drawer if you don’t have much) for household stuff; one for writing stuff; one for manuscript hard copies (yes, I really do keep those); one for supplies like hanging folders, file folders, card stock (you get the idea); one for magazines you’re keeping; and an empty drawer for stuff to deal with later in. Mix the cabinets’ uses to your needs. The possibilities are endless and it really works if you do it.
  • Set an alarm to go through the drop-in file cabinet so you actually get the junk filed, otherwise this is a wasted exercise, because if you’re like me, out-of-sight equals out-of-mind.
  • Alphabetize your files. This makes it easy to find what you want. I might have to stand in front of the cabinet and recite my ABCs (after all, who really knows what comes after H without saying “H, I, J, K”?), but this way I have a chance of locating what I want. If I can’t remember where I filed it synonyms come in handy. Maps might also be filed under D for directions, or A for Addresses, R for routes, or C for cartograms. If all else fails, I check the files behind and in front of the Map file.
  • Use hanging files. I love hanging files because they slide easier than the other kind, and you can place interior folding files in each hanging file. Under hanging file A I might have sub-files like antiques, ancestry charts, arthritis information, or absurd facts.
  • Use colored files for your sub-files, alternating colors to make the files easier to see. This tip gets more important as my eyes age and can’t see those two red folders stuck together.
  • Make a sub-file for every category you can think of. Some of mine are labeled craft writing articles; idea file; writing clips; diets I should try, but probably won’t; home décor; research; writing conference materials; home business letters, rejection letters.
  • Use staples for multiple pages instead of paper clips. Staples take up less room in the file, won’t catch other stored pages, and keep me from losing stuff.
  • Don’t put it on your desk. I’m a bad drop-it-and-do-it-later kinda gal. It’s the procrastinator in me, and it gets me in trouble. If you must drop it on the desk and run, take care of the pile the next time you’re in the office to avoid losing those important papers on the bottom of a stack.  Many an unwanted book has arrived in my mailbox because I “lost” the decline-the-featured-selection slip in a 12-inch high pile.
  • For the need-to-do-soon things, like agent and publisher contacts, queries and submissions, my gardening journal and blog journals, and my ever-growing to-do-list, I keep labeled, pocket binders on my desk. Easy to access and hard to lose.

If after trying all these tips you still fail miserably at file organization, and I have done so on many occasions, there’s always one more option:

  • Buy a basket.

Or in my case another basket. It’s amazing how many papers you can “file” in these woven marvels!

How are your organization skills? Are you a piler or a filer?

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