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10 Most Common Filing Mistakes

by Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed. Life Coach, ADHD Coach, Organizing Coach, Author
Chronic Disorganization Specialist, ADD / ADHD Coach
Getting Unstuck: Coaching Programs for Women with ADD ADHD


Let’s face it. No one really loves filing. But many people who hate filing are often doing things that make filing more painful than it needs to be. Here are 10 of the most common filing mistakes along with ways to make filing much easier! Avoiding these mistakes will go a long way to clearing your resistance to filing.

1. Overstuffing Files

If your filing drawers are overstuffed, I guarantee you will hate filing and you will probably suffer from lots of hang nails and paper cuts too.

The solution:

1) Always have at least 6-10 inches of space available in your file cabinet or file crate. Make sure you can easily move and open each file with one hand and drop your paper in the file with the other hand.

2) Keep your files lean. A simple way to declutter your files is:

overstuffed files - professional organizers
filing system by professional organizers

- Pick out your thickest files.

- Go through them and recycle as much as you can.

- Got a lot of files? Chunk out the task. Start with 3 or even just 1 file a day and before you know it, you will have an easy-to-use file drawer again.

2. Mixing File Folder Colors Randomly or Using Too Many Colors

This generally just makes your files look messy (as shown above).

To get the most out of using color, I recommend establishing 5 – 6 master categories, such as Household, Financial, Health, Family, Career, Personal Interests, etc. Then assign each category a single color.

This gives your use of color meaning and helps you find your files faster and put them away more easily.

In this picture, the container is all medical files. The yellow files are medical records, and the green files are for the financial medical files related to two Financial Spending Accounts (FSAs).

Most people think they have to buy a different color for every category and then they'll need to have a huge stock of different colors. Not necessary. Keep it Simple.

Pick one or 2 favorite colors and use the same colors for everything. For example, in my personal files, I use Purple (the color of wealth) for client folders and financial files. I use bright yellow (the color of cheerfulness and mental stimulation) for most everything else. I also have some red folders that I use for very hot project or reference information. I use them sparingly so they stand out.

Using only one color you love is much better than using the institutional green color that reminds everyone of being at work.

3. Not Using Color at All

This is just plain boring. No wonder you hate filing. People who use color meaningfully, and don’t overstuff the file drawers, are at least 3 times more likely to keep up with their filing.

4. Too Many Folders

Some people set up a hanging folder and then put a regular interior folder inside every hanging folder. To me this is overkill for most home filing systems. There are times as you are using your system when you will want to subdivide a hanging file by adding a folder to it rather than creating a new hanging folder. But, there really is no need for folders inside hanging folders for the average filing system. I stopped doing this a few years ago and am so glad I did. It’s so much simpler and easier to maintain your filing system. And a lot fewer paper cuts! I spend a lot less time filing and it takes less than 20 seconds to add a new file. Plus I save money on the extra folders.

5. Too Many Categories

Another way people complicate their filing systems is by using too many categories. This not only makes it harder to find the file you are looking for, it increases the risk of misfiling your paper. For example, rather than having a separate folder for every credit card and monthly utility bill, you could have one folder for all “Credit Card Statements” and one folder for “Utilities.” Utilities might include all non tax-deductible water bills, light bills, phone, cable,etc. Keep only 3-6 months worth unless they are tax-deductible.

6. Creating Hard to Read Labels

Many people create labels by hand using a pen or even worse, a pencil. hard to read  messy  filesThis makes it very difficult to read your labels and for anyone else to help you keep up with filing. Of course you can use your computer to create labels. Avery has lots of templates set up to help you create labels easily.

If you prefer to hand write your labels, write neatly, filing systemsand use a black Sharpie
on plain white filing labels.

Using 3.5 inch plastic tabs (as shown in picture) make it easier to write large and fit your whole title. This will give you best readability.

If you don’t want to use your computer to print out filing labels, invest in a label maker such as a P-touch system. P-Touch has an automatic setting for printing labels that are exactly 3.5 inches.

7. Using Company Names on Labels

Putting company names on labels instead of generic names like “Mortgage” can cause you extra maintenance work. When you use the company name, every time the company changes name or you refinance, or change companies, you have to change the folder label. If you just use telephone, cell phone, etc. your system will be much easier to maintain.

8. Not Using Label Location and File Location Meaningfully

Many people stagger the tabs / label on hanging folders randomly. This makes it difficult find files and when you have to insert a new folder into your system, it gets all messed up! That's why most experts recommend straight line tab locations as shown above. Just put all the plastic tabs to the right, center or to the left.

You can then use your label location to indicate a sub-category. For example, in my financial files, I have insurances to the left in a line. Monthly bills in the center and investments and retirement accounts to the right.

It makes it much easier to keep up with filing. I also keep all financial in one drawer and all personal, household and medical in another drawer. My business projects and reference files are in another drawer. Archives - in our den!

9. Shredding Too Much Paper

I've met people who shred every single paper that comes into their home. Shredding ALL paper is not necessary and just makes extra work. You only need to shred paper with critical information like credit card numbers, social security, etc. Just having your address on a piece of paper is not enough reason to shred it. If you are seriously interested in Protecting Yourself from Personal Fraud, Credit Card Fraud, and Identity Theft, read this post I wrote.

10. Not Throwing Away the Envelopes Mail Comes in

Keeping you mail in its original envelopes makes your files extremely bulky, and makes it very difficult to find what you need. It also creates extra steps when paying bills. When you open your mail, toss everything but the items you need and file them in your Action File system. If it's a bill, after paying the bill, lay it out flat, note the date you paid the bill on the bill itself, and then immediately file it into your financial filing system. Or even better, if you have access to the bill online, recycle it!.


© 2007-2009 Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed.

Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed, Coach, Author & Blogger is the founder of professional organizers and Coaching.

She helps creative people, people with ADD and the chronically disorganized clarify priorities, gain insight, and make the tough choices needed to simplify their lives, reduce stress and clutter, get organized, and create a happier, healthier, more meaningful life.

She is the author of the home office organizing book "Neat & Simple Guide to Organizing Your Office", and the popular organizing and decluttering blog, Neat & Simple Living.

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