By Dirk Zeller

Whether you are paperless or paper driven, you must have a workable filing system. Before you start going through your documents, think about how you’re most likely to search for the documents you need. You can choose from numerous file-labeling strategies, but here are some possible categories:

  • Customers (alphabetically)

  • Past clients you no longer serve

  • Due dates and project timing

  • Pending projects

  • On-hold projects

  • To-dos, miscellaneous, or a similar catch-all type of label

You can choose to file by subject, client name, importance, or a number of other ways, but if time is of the essence, setting up a tickler filing system may be ideal. Tickler or reminder files have been around for ages. They make sure you remember to deal with delayed or deferred items at the correct times. Here’s how they work:

  1. Establish two complementary tickler files, one labeled monthly and the other labeled daily.

    Your monthly tickler can be as simple as a 12-slot expandable folder with the months written on each slot. Your daily tickler can be a 31-slot accordion file folder or even 31 hanging file folders, each labeled with dates 1 through 31. They are certainly old school, but they still work today. For a more modern approach, you could set those same parameters in your computer or tablet file system. Even using an app like Evernote can increase your ability to organize.

  2. As you receive new documents, place them in the appropriate spot in your monthly file.

    If a document you receive in December requires no action until March, place the document in the March spot of your filing system.

  3. When you enter a new month, move documents from that month’s slot into the daily positions.

    When March rolls around, pull all the documents from your March tickler and place them in the appropriate days of the month in your daily tickler system.

For many businesspeople, powerful software programs called customer relation management (CRMs) have replaced tickler files.

If your filing skills are truly abysmal, have someone who’s a natural filer help you develop your filing system. Of course, only you can file some items (confidential personnel reports, salaries, information you want to keep personal, and the like). But as for the rest, use your team’s strengths and gifts so you can make better use of yours.