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How to create a functional filing system

Blog_ How to create a functional filing system

How to create a functional filing system

In this article I’m going to give you one of the simplest ways to create your own unique filing system. And the reason I’m going to show you is because I believe it’s more meaningful and functional and if you build it yourself.

Why don’t you sell a generic filing structure Bonnie?

It’s a bit of a story, but I’ll explain why. Over the last year I’ve been fortunate to have found my feet amongst Canberra networking professionals. Networking has been one of the best things that I have done for my business and has also had enormous benefits in my personal life. This year particularly, I’ve had lots of great 1 on 1 conversations with other business professionals from many different industries. Whilst it’s great to get the opportunity to talk about your own business and hear about other’s businesses, I’ve been blown away by all the creative suggestions and generous little gems of wisdom I have received.

One of the gems that often comes up is that I should create and sell a filing structure template. Even though it sounds great in theory, I don’t believe it will work. The reason for this is because I believe in Functional Organisation…

And Functional Organisation has four pillars:

  • There is NO one-size-fits-all solution for organising your data.
  • A generalised approach to organisation is less likely to be successful in the long-term.
  • There is no point comparing your solution for organisation to anyone else’s solution. You do you!
  • Take what you like, what works for you, and LEAVE THE REST.

So, you see now that I don’t think there is a one magical template that will suit every individual or business. Sure, there are some things that are probably similar and some principles, but I think a filing system should be unique to you or your business.

If there’s no magic pill, where do we start?

Like Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music, we start at the very beginning…

A word to the wise:

A filing structure is all about finding what you’re looking for when you’re looking for it. A good filing structure helps you navigate quickly to your prize disregarding the irrelevant information. As we go through the steps below, try to keep that in mind.

Step 1

Brain dump all of the ‘things’ (documents, photos, files) that you anticipate will need filing. I suggest you do this using post it notes. 1 post it note for each thing. You can see in the example below, that it’s a random collection. The post it notes are going to be your folders.

brain dump

Step 2

Once you’ve done a brain dump, start grouping similar things together. And this doesn’t have to be super similar. In the example below I have grouped things to do with staff. (Note: not everything has to be in a group. Some things kind of stand-alone and that’s okay.)


Step 3

Once you’ve grouped up all your post it notes, give each group a label that broadly explains what is in it.


Step 4

Next, (where applicable) start to breakdown each individual post it note. For example, under Tax Returns, I’m going to need to keep everything separated into Financial Years. So, add some post its under Tax Returns mapping out the relevant Financial Years. Keep going until you’ve broken down everything as far as you can. How far down you go is entirely up to you and will be driven by how many files you have.

Remember: You don’t want to have single files in a folder. That becomes just as tedious as having no folders at all.

more layers
filing structure

Step 5

Once you have mapped out your filing structure, start to create the folders in your computer. Start at your group labels. Then circle back to the first group label, dive into that folder and create the next layer. Continue on until you have a beautiful stack of labelled folders.

Step 6

Now for the time consuming, yet satisfying part! Start to move your files across into your new filing structure. I highly recommend that you COPY and do not CUT files when you’re moving them. As much as we all love technology, it can be prone to hissy fits and you don’t want to lose something vital because your computer freezes up mid transfer.

Copy files into their correct new homes, then when you’re satisfied with your handiwork you can go back and delete the original copy. OR…if you’re a worrier like me, take a back up on a hard drive for just in case.

copy and paste

I hope this has been useful to you and helped you see that filing structures are not that hard once you know where to start.

Things to remember:

  • This is a starting point only. Everything evolves and it’s okay to make changes.
  • Don’t over-complicate it with too many layers. This is a trial and error situation and very much dependant on how much data you have to sort out.
  • Like anything new, it takes time and some persistence to change.

Extra Help

If sorting out your own functional filing system is proving a little too challenging, you can always reach out for some professional help. You can Contact me or jump straight to booking in a free consultation on my Contact page.

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