It's hard to get excited about office storage, right? After all, storage is about getting things out of sight. Not so fast! Actually, storage is about putting things away now so that you can FIND exactly what you're looking for later. Before deciding WHAT should go into storage and WHERE it should be stored, three questions need to be answered:
WHY IS IT BEING KEPT?
When setting up a storage system, it's essential to PURGE unnecessary items. The key to identifying what is necessary is knowing why you have it in the first place. UNCERTAINTY is often the driving force behind holding onto outdated items. If you aren't sure why a document or file is being kept, ask yourself (or your supervisor, attorney or accountant) under what circumstances might this be needed in the future? If you said "just in case" without a clear notion of in case of what, it's a good indication that the item does not need to be stored.
WHO NEEDS TO ACCESS THIS ITEM?
If you are working in a home office, you only need to satisfy yourself regarding the convenience of your storage system. However, if you are planning storage for a COMMUNAL office environment, you might unwittingly find yourself in the middle of territorial disputes. If access to stored items is a political issue, reduce perceived inequities by selecting a NEUTRAL storage location that neither impinges upon the space of one group, nor grants anyone easier access than is afforded to others.
As a corollary to the above question, consider who should NOT have access to certain stored items. Personnel records, proprietary files and other sensitive data should be stored in a location with CONTROLLED access, such as by key or combination lock or computer password. For home offices, a lockable filing cabinet or safe should suffice.
HOW OFTEN WILL IT BE RETRIEVED?
In general, the FREQUENCY of access is inversely proportional to DISTANCE between you and your storage. If archived files will only be retrieved in case of a year-end audit or the unlikely re-opening of a closed account, storage may be far from the essential activities in the office, such as a back room or off-site storage building, provided the location is safe and environmentally controlled. Conversely, office supplies or current client records should be located so that retrieval requires as little time and effort as possible.
Whether working from a home office or the corner office on the forty-seventh floor, it's a good idea to think of office supply storage in terms of "big" and "little" storage. "Big" storage is the main storage area for all office supplies, everything from paper to toner, burnable discs to those scary looking machines for binding presentations. The key to big storage is not the size, but ARRANGEMENT of items. Like should be shelved with like, such that writing implements, paper, copier and printer supplies, and so on should be arranged each together in its own category. Tags or labels should be affixed to the edges of shelves to make it easy to locate items and identify if something is out of place or running low.
"Little" storage is what individuals should keep within arm's reach, either on desktops or in drawers. Little storage may be organized according to PERSONAL taste, from practical desk dividers to decorative containers, but you should emphasize EFFICIENCY over form. A paperclip dispenser in the shape of Elvis may be fun, but if it spills clips across the desk each time you use it, it's the wrong storage container.
HOARDING is a common tendency based on fear of running out of favorite items, but it's advisable to keep only a few week's worth of any supply at your desk. When a specific supply is running low, you can "go shopping" at your big storage location. By keeping only a usable number of supplies at your desk, you minimize clutter and maximize efficiency. Maintain an inventory SUPPLY LIST to keep from running out of supplies in big storage. In large offices, post a master list of all usual supplies, including brands and vendor product codes, on the door of the supply cabinet. For home offices, in lieu of a master inventory list, a hand-written shopping list may suffice.
Keeping storage simple is a matter of purging extraneous documents and keeping remaining items properly LABELED. Hanging file folders can be labeled with their general categories ("clients", "vendors", "regional sales territories", etc.), while manila folders should be labeled with the specific subcategories. Avoid the fuzzy non-label of "miscellaneous". If everything has a name, and each named item has a corresponding "home", the system will run more smoothly. It is also important to set office-wide RECORD RETENTION policies so that the entire staff knows what should be stored and for how long.
Archive files are documents that must be retained according to need or policy, but will not be retrieved often. For example, if the "Bob Smith" project is complete, the bill is paid and the file is CLOSED, all of the Bob Smith documents can go into the archive files. If you haven't used a file in the past six months, it's a good candidate for the archives. Archival storage should be kept in banker's boxes or file cabinets labeled with general file categories and DATES referenced; storage boxes should be labeled on the sides rather than lids so that the contents will be visible even on high storage shelves. Use shelves instead of piling boxes on top of one another, as it is almost impossible to access documents on the lower levels of a tower of boxes.
Active files are those containing CURRENT financial records, active client files, and any project that is ongoing. The main difference between archive and active files is FREQUENCY of access. Active files should be easily accessible in file cabinets or desk file drawers, and preferably, you should not have to get out of your seat to retrieve them. Optimally, you should put away an active file as soon as you are done working with it. Failing that, a 'To File' tray placed atop the file cabinet serves as interim storage until you can return documents to active file storage.
Hot files are a sub-set of active files related to projects or tasks you are handling MULTIPLE times each day. At any given time, there may be half a dozen such files where it would be inconvenient to keep returning them to active file storage. With hot files, it is often best to "store" them in a desk-top VERTICAL file sorter when not in use. This way, the labeled files are visible and quickly accessed but are unlikely to be buried or mixed up with other files.
Reference material is vital information you need to retrieve FREQUENTLY, so for maximum efficiency, "store" this data out in the open and within easy reach. On your computer, you might wish to have a desktop folder for digitally containing documents you consult daily. A small desk-side bookshelf is often the best way to store tangible materials, including general references like your dictionary, thesaurus, company directory or telephone book.
GET RID OF THE SCRAPS
Avoid the temptation to keep account codes, telephone and fax numbers and other small "reference" items on Post-It Notes® affixed to computer monitors, bulletin boards and desktops. Adhesive wears away, ink smudges and small pieces of paper flutter to the floor, leaving vital data at the mercy of the office cleaning staff or your dog Rover. Instead, a desk-top CARD FILE or CONTACT SOFTWARE can be used to store all the minutia in your office.
Julie Bestry is a professional organizer and President of Best Results Organizing. Bestry helps overwhelmed residential and business clients save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity by focusing on clutter control, information management and organizational skill training. For more articles, useful resources and ebooks, plus information on how Julie can turn your chaos into serenity, visit Best Results Organizing at http://www.juliebestry.com
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