Lesson 8 – Time Management

Organising Your Files

Sorting Based on File Type

The key principles of retrieval are:

  • Group similar things together
  • Place them in their own space or container
  • Label them clearly

Categories

There are also some additional steps we can take depending on what kind of files you are trying to organise. We can usually divide our files into five categories.

Working Files

These include your current projects, routine functions, and quick references. These are the files where you have 80% of your work. These should be within arm’s reach. They usually contain the following:

  • The projects you are currently working on. This file should be cleaned occasionally, to move projects to a reference file or to eliminate duplication.
  • Fingertip information you need on a routine or daily basis, such as phone lists, client addresses, and computer codes.
  • A follow-up file for each person with whom you come in contact on a regular basis, where you keep track of all correspondence with that person.
  • A file for routine functions such as sales reports or other functions performed daily/weekly/monthly.

Since these files should be within reach, they might be in a large desk drawer. Make certain they are in file folders, labeled in large letters, and then placed in hanging file folders that are also labeled.

Usually it is more efficient to label hanging folders by category, rather than by a letter of the alphabet. Then categories can be alphabetised or color-coded.

Reference Files

These are files you must refer to frequently as you work on current projects. This is where the bulk of your files will be located. Since you use these files regularly, they need to be kept handy, but not necessarily within arm’s length. The most important thing is to arrange all information in such a way that you can pull information out of the file easily.

Key questions for you to consider as this file is set up:

  • What do I want to keep?
  • What do I need to keep?
  • If I wanted this information, could I find it elsewhere?

Information that should be in the reference file includes:

  • Research for future projects
  • Past projects to which the client refers

It can be helpful to consider key functions or components of your job, and make these the major categories for reference files. Other files might include:

  • Sponsor files
  • Administrative information

Cull all duplicates or useless paper. Have a recycling bin at the ready.

Establish subject categories, and label both file folders and hanging files. Put the file structure on paper prior to starting the filing.

Label file drawers and create a master list of files if the amount of information is large. Remember to use large, clear print with a fine tip felt marker.

Archive Files

These are the files nobody looks at. You keep them because the law says you must, or because you are afraid you’ll need them if they are thrown out, or because nobody wants to take the time to do anything about them. They should be kept in a designated location far from your work area.

Disaster Files

This is one file that contains all vital information, including identification and financial references, in case you have to vacate the office unexpectedly. You can also have a file like this at home so you have things organised in the event of a disaster.

Electronic Files

The key rule is that the file structure used in paper files and electronic files should parallel each other. This is all for the sake of retrieval. Make use of keywords and search programs to help you find your files even faster. In this information age, we have to know what we need to keep and what we don’t need to keep. Don’t keep what you don’t need. Don’t ask, “Will I ever need this?” The answer is almost sure to be “Maybe.” Ask instead, “Where could I get this if I needed it?”

E-mail

Check your mail twice a day.

  • Checking your e-mail frequently is one of the big time-wasters of the modern office. Avoid it if you can.
  • Set aside two periods when you know it will be quiet and check your mail then.
  • Use separate accounts for personal and business mail.

Filter the spam.

With all of the junk e-mail circulating today, it’s vital to use an e-mail program that can filter it by dumping junk in the trash before it gets to you. Filters can also help you manage your e-mail better. For example, you can filter mailing list updates, news, and promotions, into separate folders and read them when you’re ready.

Organise your addresses.

Use the address book features built into your e-mail program rather than manually typing addresses. It is more convenient and accurate. Creating distribution lists for various groups of people that you send e-mail to can also save you time.

File your messages.

Organise your messages into folders or delete them as soon as you’re done reading them or acted on them. Ensure your inbox contains only messages you haven’t read or that require further action.

Keep messages simple.

Remember:

  • A short e-mail message is a good e-mail message.
  • Use a specific or descriptive subject heading.
  • Keep messages, especially replies, short.
  • If a simple “yes” or “no” will do, that’s all you need to say.

Briefcase

Your briefcase should be organised with:

  • Tools that are needed frequently when away from the office
  • Reference files that are frequently referred to such as telephone lists
  • Working files that are needed
  • A system for expenses

Look at your briefcase. Are you prepared? Is it organised? What if someone looked in your vehicle? What does your vehicle say about you?

The Batching Technique

The balance to the “do it now” approach is batching. With this technique, you save several of the same type of things to do at once. Sometimes that is a more effective technique than doing each thing singly.

We can even batch our interactions with others. Do you ever remember what you wanted to ask someone or tell someone just after they walked out of your office or you hung up the phone? You might save quite a bit of time by having a file for each of the people you interact with often.

Here are some examples:

  • Word processing files: Batched and placed in categories. Develop a tree of directories and subdirectories, using the same categories as in the paper filing system.
  • E-mail files: Again, create directories and save only those that will be referred to again. Delete e-mails that are not references.
  • Voice mail: Listen to your voice mail message. Does it do a good job of telling the person at the other end of the line what he/she should do?