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How to organize and file paperwork

In This Article:

  • What paperwork do I need to keep?
  • What's the easiest way to scan documents and paperwork?
  • How to organize paperwork: the big picture
  • The next step: organize folders of documents
  • Choosing file names when organizing papers
  • Jump to our recommendation »

Filing Paperwork Overview

Paper. Love it or hate it, we swim in piles of it every day. How well we organize and file paperwork is a key measurement of our efficiency, not to mention our general feeling of control over our workload. So let's learn how to scan, organize, and file paperwork for success. And the key part of that formula will be an invaluable piece of software: FileCenter.

What Paperwork do I Need to Keep?

Our overall goal is to make scanning, filing, and organizing paperwork and documents as efficient as possible. The single best way to speed up the process is to reduce the amount of paperwork we file. Putting it another way, we can make paperwork filing go a lot faster if we don't file everything. So the first step to being successful at organizing paperwork is to become judicious about what paperwork we keep. Don't keep everything.

If the bahavior report from the doggy motel has sentimental value, by all means, keep it. Otherwise, toss it. If the tracking number for the package you just shipped is available electronically, toss the paper version. Only scan receipts for things you need to expense or prove for tax purposes. The coffee receipt from this morning? Toss it.

Before any piece of paper goes into the scanner, ask yourself some questions:

  • Am I legally obligated to retain this document?
  • Will I need to refer back to this document within the next seven years?
  • Does this document provide information or evidence that I may need to rely on?
  • Does this document have personal or sentimental value?

If the answer to all of those questions is No, don't spend another minute with that paperwork. Send it to the recycle bin.

What's the Easiest Way to Scan Documents and Paperwork?

Most folks just use the software that came with their scanner. It's good enough for the purpose, right? Wrong.

The very biggest efficiency gains you can enjoy come from having a) a high-quality scanner, and b) the right software.

First, choose a high quality scanner. It makes all the difference in the world. You only want to scan paperwork once, not four times (thanks to paper jams). And you want it to scan as fast as possible. Manually feeding paperwork onto a flatbed scanner is the definition of torture. On the other hand, watching a high-speed scanner whip a document through at 60 pages per minute is pure pleasure.

Next, get FileCenter. FileCenter bends over backwards to remove every speed bump possible from the scanning process. When it comes to scanning and organizing your documents, you want software that can automatically separate paperwork at regular intervals, intelligently name and organize documents based on their contents, and automatically take care of things like OCR and PDF conversion for you.

How to Organize Paperwork: The Big Picture

If you want to know how to organize papers, your first step is to think much, much bigger. Begin by thinking about how you want to structure your layout. The best way to organize documents is using an organizational structure that your mind already understands intuitively: the filing cabinet. FileCenter has an electronic filing cabinet interface that makes the perfect documents organizer. FileCenter has tabs representing distinct cabinets, and each cabinet can contain an unlimited number of drawers and folders.

Whether you're organizing papers in the office or organizing papers at home, to organize your important documents, first think in very broad categories. For example, at home you may have a cabinet for your digital photos, another cabinet for your official papers, another cabinet for journalling or correspondence, and a cabinet for your hobby. A medical practice may have a cabinet for patients, a cabinet for research, and a cabinet for billing. You get the idea.

So your first task is to figure out your broad categories.

The Next Step: Organize Drawers and Folders of Documents

Your next step is to break down each category into logical chunks. For example, a cabinet of digital photos will probably have a drawer for each year followed by folders for each month. A doctor's cabinet for patients will have a drawer for each patient. A law firm may have a Litigation cabinet with a drawer for each active case, followed by folders for evidence, pleadings, motions, briefs, etc.

FileCenter has an invaluable tool in this regard: Folder Templates. For example, suppose that an accountant has a drawer for each client, each drawer with exactly the same layout of subfolders: Receipts, Ledgers, Tax Forms, etc. Instead of setting up all of those folders by hand for every client, the accountant can create a template of folders and automatically apply it to every drawer. This has three benefits: it's faster, it's more uniform, and it's more predictable.

So your next step if you want to organize your papers is to figure out your folder layouts.

Choosing File Names when Organizing Papers

Here is the one place that organizing electronic files is different than filing paper in a cabinet: paper documents don't have names. Yet filenames are an invaluable aid for helping you retrieve your documents later.

As you design your important papers organizer in FileCenter, give careful thought to how you want to name your documents. We recommend that your filenames contain the following elements:

First, if the date is important, begin the filename with a date in the format YYYY-MM-DD. This makes it so that your documents sort chronologically. Some would argue that you can simply use the Windows Created or Modified dates for this purpose. While that's true, those dates can change, especially if you're sharing files back and forth with others.

Next, Give a brief description of the document type: Insurance Claim, Correspondence, Contract, Receipt, etc.

Finally, provide the name of the business, person, or other party that the document relates to. Some examples:

  • 2000-02-29, Letter From, Grandma.pdf
  • 2014-11-06, Contract, Pine Hollow.pdf
  • 2019-07-25, Receipt, Sports Authority, Tennis Racket.pdf
  • Research, Leap Year Occurrances.pdf

Our Paperwork Organizer Recommendation

FileCenter is your important documents organizer. FileCenter strives hard to help you scan and organize paperwork and any other kind of document as efficiently as possible. This starts with a clean, intuitive interface that users rave about and extends to the file-related tasks that burden users on a daily basis, providing tools and shortcuts to automate or smooth out all of the speed bumps in your daily workflow, from working with files to scanning and PDF manipulation. Download a free trial today!