Module Six: Paper and Paperless Storage

We all have those pieces of paper we keep around us, whether it’s old receipts, invoices, cards, or old letters. On the other side of the coin, we are living in the ‘paperless’ age, where everything is done electronically, including utility bills and notifications. Luckily, we don’t have to choose between one and the other. A paper and paperless storage system can work for anyone, as long as they work together to keep things organized.

Find a System that Works for You

When deciding whether or not to go paperless, we have to decide what would work best for our situations. Many of us function well with physical pieces of paper in some sort of filing system. Others of us work better in the electronic filing system and keep paperless files, whether on a computer or portable device. Paper storage system allows you to keep various paper documents in files for easy access and reference and can provide a firm reference if needed to present a hard copy. However, a paperless system allows you to free up more space while managing to keep documents for a longer period of time. So in order to decide what works for you, examine how you store your valuable information.

Ask yourself some of the following questions to help decide what system works for you:

  • Where do I keep my information?
  • Do I keep physical things or electronic versions?
  • If I store paper, do I have space?
  • If I store paperless, do I have the access?

Make It Consistent

Whichever storage system you choose, or whether you decide to use both, keep your methods consistent. If you decide to choose one method over the other, be sure to stick with this method for all of your papers or files. Keep them in one central location so that they are easily accessible. If you decide to use a combination of these methods, keep your paper files and electronic files consistent with matching names for paper folders and the ones on your computer. If file names are different and do not share a key name, documents could be lost or placed in the wrong folder or file. The system you choose to use should help boost your organization, not complicate it.

Make it Time Sensitive

Every piece of information in storage is connected to some kind of timelines, such as a printed date, times, or schedules. When we store these items and keep them out of sight, we can often forget what they are for and possibly miss important deadlines. To avoid misplacing or forgetting these time-sensitive materials, make your method of organization time-sensitive as well. Create bins or folders with dates and reminders on them. Make different categories for them, such as personal, bills, work projects or jobs, to help remind you of their ‘shelf life’. By keeping these documents handy or in marked computer files, we can keep track of pressing, time-sensitive information without letting the deadlines or due dates slip through our fingers.

Tips for organizing time-sensitive information:

  • Mark folders/bins/files with dates or date ranges
  • Highlight or emphasize deadlines on each material
  • Once something has passed a deadline or due date, re-file it to another folder

Setting up Archives

Now that you’ve sorted all of your files and folders and decided what you need to keep or throw away, the next step is set up various archives for documents that you need to keep for future use, but won’t necessarily need every day. Establish a reference system that works for you and can be easily sorted through later when you need to find something. If you’re keeping physical files, keep them in a folder or bin that is not in your direct work area. Put it away in the back of a drawer or on a higher shelf than everything else.

If you decide to keep digital files, keep all documents in archived folders and relocate them to another computer if possible. Don’t keep them on the desktop along with things you use every day. However, you decide to store your materials, setting up archives will help you keep track of files you need to hang on to while keeping them out of your everyday workspace.

Case Study

Rhonda is going through her office and wanted to organize her mounds of paperwork. She realized she needed a better way to store everything she needed to keep. First, she decided that she could scan and copy several of her document files onto her computer for easy storage; that way she didn’t need to keep the hard copy. But her special documents, such as various manuals (employee, policy and procedure, etc.), she realized she needed to keep the physical copy for future reference. So she developed a file system for her paper storage and her paperless storage that worked best for her everyday use, including files and folders that held her work deadlines. Lastly, she set aside a special folder for her older and less important documents to archive. She put them in the back of the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet so that they would be out of her way while she was working, but she could reach them quickly if she needed to.