This is an excerpt from Organizing Guru, Barbara Hemphill. She hits the nail on the head, so I thought I would share it.
The first step to success is recognizing that organizing files is a part of everyone’s life — like organizing your closet or the garage. You either have to do it yourself, hire (or bribe!) someone else to do it, or live with the cluttered consequences.
1. State Your Vision. Define what “organized” means to you. What is the level of organization you need in your filing system to be able to accomplish your work and enjoy your life? My personal criteria for paper files is that I want my desk to be totally clear of papers when I leave work at the end of the week. My personal criteria for electronic files is being able to find the file I need in a few minutes.
2. Identify Your Obstacles. What specifically prevents you from reaching your desired state of file organization? Lack of space? Lack of time? Lack of a filing system?
3. Commit Your Resources. For example, how much time are you willing to invest per week to solve the problem? How much space do you have to store files? Who could help you? What filing systems do you already have in place that work? Once you have addressed the above issues, then it’s time to move to Step 4 in the Productive Environment Process:
4. Design your plan. If it takes longer than 30 minutes to clear up the papers on your desk, your filing system needs work. The best place to start is OVER! Ignore the old papers and create a new filing system for the current papers. If you have difficulty finding electronic files, identify the SPECIFIC source of the problem. For example, are you using your “In Box” for a filing cabinet — and then can’t find what you need? Are you taking advantage of the “search” capabilities of your computer?
If you don’t know what they are, ask someone younger that you are, and they probably will! If you know what to do, and you just haven’t done it, now’s the time to design and implement a plan for the newest papers. Then you can incorporate the old papers as you use them. If you’re totally overwhelmed, now’s the time to get help.
5. Maintain your success. Let’s face it — life is messy, and sometimes our filing systems reflect that reality. Building in a system to maintain your success is crucial.
Like Barbara mentioned, sometimes you have to shake up the old to reinvent the new. The assistance of a Professional Organizer can offer a fresh set of eyes to help you create that new system. Remember, 80% of the files/paper we keep, we never refer to again. – Ellen