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NEW! - Keywords For This Page:   Filing - Labeling - Paper - Information Management

Creating A Filing System

Feel free to use this tip sheet / checklist as you tackle your own ""do-it-yourself"" organizing projects. If you would like to REPRINT or DISTRIBUTE this information, please click here for reprinting instructions.


  • find a good filing cabinet
  • check to see how easily the drawers slide when full
  • make sure there are rails for supporting hanging files
  • more flexibility if drawers can hold letter and legal files
  • lateral file drawers hold paper more efficiently
  • if you prefer open storage use file crates on book shelves


  • hanging file folders (letter or legal)
  • manila interior file folders (letter or legal)
  • 1/5 cut clear plastic tabs for hanging files
  • 1/5 cut colored plastic tabs for hanging files (at least 4 colors)


  • start with broad filing categories
  • ex: "financial paperwork" or "car" or "insurance"
  • then divide each large category into smaller subcategories
  • ex: within "insurance" would be "car", "homeowners", "medical", etc.


  • want your file labels to uniquely express how you view your files
  • but also need to make sense so no one has to guess what is stored where
  • start with a noun rather than an adjective
  • ex: not "past clients" but "clients: past"
  • moving from general ("clients") to specific ("past")
  • files with the same prefix will be together alphabetically in the drawer
  • try to avoid vague and nebulous categories like "miscellaneous" or "other"
  • 99% of the time, you can think of a specific category that encompasses that document


  • arrange major categories in drawer alphabetically
  • label one hanging file for each major category
  • use a clear plastic tab positioned to the far left of the file to label each
  • label each subcategory on a separate folder
  • can put each in a manila folder inside the right major category
  • or put each in a separate hanging file behind the main category folder
  • arrange subcategory folders alphabetically within major category


  • use a different color folder or tab for each section of files
  • ex: all "financial" folders are green or have a green label
  • makes it easier to find the file you need quickly
  • makes it easier to put folders back in the right place


  • used to open your drawer and sort through a sea of files to find the right one
  • now you can put your hands on the folder you want almost instantly
  • run down the row of major categories until you find the right one
  • ex: if hunting your Visa bill, you would look for "credit cards" or "finances"
  • then slide over to the appropriate color-coded subcategories
  • make things easier with a file index that lists categories in alphabetical order


  • remember that your filing system is dynamic and ever-changing
  • as interests and responsibilities change, so should your filing system
  • donít be afraid to abandon a category if you donít use it anymore
  • don't hesitate to add a new category if you need it
  • consolidate folders that seem to go together under one larger heading
  • split categories up into smaller pieces if your folders get too stuffed
  • set aside time once a year to purge obsolete information from your files


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