Paper documents and digital documents. You’ll find organizers who specialize in one or the other, but is organizing paper really that different from organizing digital files? When it comes down to it, many of the same principles apply to both formats. After all, you are organizing information, regardless of the form it is in. So what is the same?
Organizing Method: How you organize – by topic, alphabetical, chronological – depends on the type of information you are working with as well as your personal preferences. I have one client that organizes information about her car under the heading ‘Acura’ and ‘Acura maintenance’. Another client uses ‘Car’ and ‘Car Maintenance’. Both are valid choices.
Naming Conventions: The name you use on your file can make a huge difference in how easy it is to find again. I have lots of information about organizing in Evernote (as you would expect). To make sure it all sorts together I’ve used specific names for each notebook – Organizing – Photos, Organizing – Workflow, Organizing – Basics, etc. I’ve done this same type of setup for a client’s physical files – Labs 2010-2015, Labs 2005-2009
Records Retention: All documents have a ‘shelf life’ for how long you need to keep them in your system. Those house documents need to stay until you’ve sold the house, if not for several years after. Your pay stubs can be shredded after your correct W-2 comes through at tax time. These retention guidelines apply regardless of the form of information.
So what’s different when you are working with paper rather than digital information?
Searching: I’ve had many frustrating moments searching through a client’s physical files for a particular document that I could have located quickly using the search function in Evernote or on my computer. Why retirement documents ended up in financial statements is beyond me when there was a folder specifically for retirement papers.
With physical files, in particular, I recommend clients always go with their first instinct when filing something. If your first thought is that the car insurance receipt goes under Insurance, we’ll go with that because when it comes time to search, chances are that is the first place you’ll look. With digital search it is easier because many programs these days will search within a document as well as looking at the file name. Although having good naming conventions is always a good first step!
Filing location: A physical file can only exist in one location. If you have a reservation form for the car rental place you can either put it in receipts or in vacation 2019, but not both. In a digital system, you can apply tags or metadata that allow us to find all vacation 2019 documents, regardless of where you had originally filed them.
Organizing your paper and digital files require most of the same principles, with a few notable exceptions. How about your files? Are they in order? Can you find what you need when you need it? I can help with that!