Filing System Decluttering, KonMari Style

unorganized filing system

Does your workplace filing system need some decluttering in order to spark joy?

Is it time to redo your office filing system? Marie Kondo, the professional organizer that became a surprise hit on Netflix with her show “Tidying Up” (based on her best-selling book), has sparked a decluttering movement in America. Her gentle and appreciative approach is quite the opposite of our typical “boot camp”, attention-grabbing approach when it comes to lifestyle makeover shows.

I see the “over the top” shows as overbearing parents who are telling you the right things; just not the way you want to hear them.

While Condo’s show and organizational theory was designed for the home, there are gems that can apply to the workplace, especially if you are a small business owner in need of a good filing system. More importantly, efficiency through organization leads to peace-of mind.  There are reasons we hang onto those old things and it isn’t always laziness. Personally, I like things neat, but not so organized it’s sterile and impersonal. A slightly messy desk makes me feel busy but not so busy I can’t clean it up at the end of the day.

But when I have to climb over stacks of paper to get to my phone, it’s time to apply some of her principles to that office paper that’s been piling up more than my old sweaters. I need a good filing system for my important documents.

Make Your Filing System Clean Out Day An Appointment

If someone told you that an eight our training investment would guarantee 20% efficiency in your office, and the training was free, would you do it? I’d say the answer is “yes!” because we can see how investing in efficiency increases revenue or production.

But if I told you that you needed a day to clean out your office, you’d likely shove that day to “whenever we get time.”

Yet how much more efficient would your office be if you never lost a document because you invested in improving your filing system?

This is why this paper sorting needs to be an appointment.

Cathartic Categorization of Clutter

The fact that we’re going to start with just a paper pile speaks to Kondo’s principle of tackling organization by category and NOT by room. It might be tempting to sort papers while working each room, but that ends up being counterproductive in the long run. Why repeat the same sorting method five times, five different days when you can do it one time, one day and get it all over with?

Besides, doing something like emptying a shelf full of unnecessary binders full of outdated rules. will create space in each room for whatever other category will be sorted in the future.

Prepare The End In The Beginning

What do you think it’s going to look like if every piece of paper in your work center was put in the right place or tossed? What would more shelf space look like? How would a lighter file cabinet feel? Keep that in mind as you take on this task.

Scanning is key to this KonMari-inspired filing.  If you have access to a multi-page scanner, get one! It’s going to save you some time. We had a Fujitsu model like this one  when I was a Federal civilian and constantly had to scan documents by the dozens. I would do at least 200 pages a day and I couldn’t imagine single-paging it!

However you plan to scan, be sure to create a “scan” folder in your computer that’s dedicated to today’s project .

Finally, get at least four large bins that, if you had to move every paper, you would be able to fit them all in. You’re gonna need a place to put every document!

Decision Time

Your bins need to be labeled “Scan”, “Trash,” “File”, and “Maybe”. These aren’t official Marie Kondo labels, but they worked for me!

It’s easy to see what’s trash (expired coupons, outdated supply catalogs, manuals for equipment you no longer own). That’s my first go-to for sorting because you see the immediate impact.

Other times, the sorting for your improved filing system can be deceptive. For example, sometimes you’ll see a binder labeled “Safety”. That looks like something you wouldn’t need to sort through. But if it’s old, there may be outdated material, points of contact, etc.  

Look at the “maybe” pile and ask yourself these questions:

1) What do you need to legally keep and for how long?

2)What do you have multiple copies of?

3)What would be nice to have “just in case”?

4)What’s a nice memory?

The nice memories “spark joy”, as Marie Kondo puts it. Her critics often assume she suggests everything must go when, in reality, some things can stay if they provide good memories. If it’s something really nice, maybe you can have that document framed. The others? Perhaps it’s time to scan and then de-clutter. If they are handwritten letters or notes, you could probably put them in a small box or storage container. Label it “memories” and take it home.

This process has to keep going until every piece of paper you put into the pile has a place.

At my house, we used to keep food magazines for years just because they were holiday

specials with a few good recipes. But upon further review, the recipes we wanted took up 3 of the 200 pages in each magazine! We just started ripping out the recipes and tossing the rest.

Revisit your “scan” pile to make sure some things were absolute keepers.Then start scanning!

When you’re done, you might realize some things you’ll need to keep hard copy, while other documents can now be trashed.  Those hard copies need to go in the “File” bin.

And now…take a break! Admire what you’ve done and the space you created. In fact, take a page out of Marie’s book and give thanks to not just your newly freed-up space but all the documents you’re about to toss. They played a life in your office’s development. After you toss them in the dump, give yourself a good walk around the block  to knock off the paper dust before you move onto the final organization phase.

When you’re finished with your break, you can start organizing and filing those hard copy documents as well as the scan folder. It’s the usual business: labeling binders and folders, both digital and real.

Like anything else good for you, doing the hard work up front makes for easier work down stream. With less stress about a mess, you’ll be closer to more success!

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