Forget Your Filing System! Create a “Finding System” That Works Every Time!

Recently I received the following email: Dear Barbara, A colleague just called me to her office and asked, "Do you remember when you first came here and I gave you all of that information on orientation for new salespeople? I can't find my files anywhere, do you still have that info?" Initially, I thought that there was no way I'd ever remember where I put it, but then "aha!" I checked my file index and found it! Sweeeet!

Losing information can cost you peace of mind, a harmonious relationship, valuable time, or even a customer; and an international office products company did a study that rated filing as the most hated job in the office. (I hope they didn’t pay much for that survey!) Here’s the real question: How do you find the information in the filing system; information about the company car, for example? Is it car, auto, vehicle, or Toyota? And then when you want the insurance policy for that car, is it car insurance, insurance–car, or State Farm? The only person who knows is the person who filed it – and she was laid off months ago (or maybe it was your spouse who just can’t understand why you can’t find anything in the files yourself!)

It is eminently clear that using traditional filing methods, the problem of managing paper will never be solved. There simply aren’t enough human resources to make file labels and put files in alphabetical order, over and over, constantly rearranging them as new information comes in! As Daddy often demonstrated to me growing up on our Nebraska farm, “Half of any job is using the right tool.”

The tool that makes a “Filing System” a “FINDING System™” is a File Index. A file index is to a filing system what a chart of accounts is to accounting. There are numerous tools available to create a File Index — it’s important that you choose one you WILL use. (Note: it doesn’t have to be a numerical system! The key for me was having my file index on my smartphone! The tool I use has a smartphone app that I use nearly every day!

3 Important Finding SYSTEM Principles (Saving You Space Time Energy Money)™:

1. Today’s mail is tomorrow’s pile™. Research shows that 80% of what we keep we never use, so ignore the old piles and your filing systems that don’t work –start over!

2. Clutter is postponed decisions®. When you’re tempted to procrastinate, ask yourself, “What am I going to know tomorrow that I don’t know today?”

3. Think F-A-T: File, Act or Toss

The good news is you have only three options – File, Act, or Toss.

1. File: You don’t know if you’ll ever need this again, but you simply don’t have the nerve to throw it away. Not a problem. When the file gets too bulky, start another one, and the keyword search in your automated File Index will find them both.

2. Act: Is the ball in your court to do something? Pay a bill, plan a meeting, research a problem, solve a problem. In Productive Environment™ methodology, this is an Action File.

3. Toss: Ask yourself, “What’s the worst possible thing that would happen if I didn’t have this?” Can you live with your answer? Toss or recycle it! You can keep everything you want — if you’re willing to pay the price: time, space, money and energy, but regardless, Hemphill’s Principle prevails: “If you don’t know you have it, or you can’t find it, it’s of NO value to you.”

Author's Bio: 

In 1978, Barbara took out a $7 ad in a New York City newspaper to advertise her professional organizer business. For 20 years, she focused her business on organizing paper and physical clutter for home offices and organizations. Then the Internet Age came about, and she utilized her principles and expertise to help clients with digital clutter.

Over the past 40+ years Barbara has helped 1000's of companies, and became an icon and top expert in the industry. She has been featured on national media platforms such as Good Morning America, The Today Show and CNN Nightly News. She has also been showcased in publications including USA Today, New York Times, Fast Company, Reader’s Digest, Real Simple and Guideposts.

Barbara and her team teach business owners a 9-step system to go from overwhelmed to optimized. Step 1 is a free Assessment that can be found at