Despite the best of intentions, most of us don't use good information management practices - simple filing systems which enable us to keep track of our projects and resources. The mountain of paperwork piles up on top of us like an avalanche, and beyond that, there are PC files, emails and SMS to manage. Not many organizations have standard practices for information management. Even your time management courses did not teach good ways of organizing, sorting and systemizing information. So it's hardly surprising that we struggle to find order among the chaos. Far from being a nuisance administrative task, effective information management is essential to your efficiency and productivity. Introducing simple systems and investing just 15 minutes per week can put you in control of your information and help you to become more efficient and productive.
Keeping it together.
Create a central storage point for everything that requires filing - a box or a folder labeled 'filing' - and throw everything into it during the week.
Allocate 15 minutes each week for filing. Depending on the state you are in at the beginning, you may need to allocate more time than this to get on top of the task - but from then on, 15 minutes per week should be a small enough time slot to find, but long enough to keep you on top of your paperwork.
Set up systems.
When using filing cabinets, decide how you will allocate your space to make it easiest to locate your files: for example, rather than mixing all your files together you might decide to keep current customer files in one drawer and potential customer files and marketing information in a separate drawer, or you might choose to store current projects in one drawer and research and reference information in another, or you might decide to file everything in alphabetical order - you get the idea - look at the type of files you have and decide how to logically divide them into categories. Then, label the front of each drawer with the type of files it contains.
Use color coding to further systemize your files and to enable you to identify different types of files at a glance. Choose a range of colored manila folders and allocate a different color to use for different file types: for example, blue for customer files, purple for staff files, pink for project files and so on. Make a reference list of what each colour represents until you are familiar with your system.
What color is today?
Now set up a different colored folder for each day of the week. Use these to file tasks that require action on certain days. Check the contents of your day-file as part of your 10-minute preparation at the end of each day and prioritize the tasks. Make sure you keep your day-files up to date by immediately filing papers relating to your daily tasks in the appropriate day-file, rather than in your 'filing' folder where you may not see it again until your allocated filing time.
Set up folders in your email to file important information you have read or worked on and want to keep for future reference. These folders might mirror your hard-copy files to make it easy for you to cross-reference printed and online information relating to a particular subject.
Learn how to color code your incoming email so you can identify at a glance which emails require your immediate attention. Again, your color coding might mirror your hard copy filing system while adding new color categories for emails from friends and family.
Establish rules for incoming email to help you sort the legitimate messages from the Spam, jokes and junk. Your email software can help you, for example, to send Spam messages directly to your trash, or to send e-zines or newsletters you subscribe to directly to a reading folder.
Read and delete.
Many people have a tendency to want to keep emails - set yourself some guidelines for what you want to keep and delete the rest once you have read or taken action on them. And, don't keep emails in your inbox - they'll only make you feel like you have more work than you really do and increase the chances you'll overlook something that needs your attention. Be disciplined: read, action then file or delete.
Schedule time to clean out your email regularly, once a month should be enough to keep you on top of it. Empty your deleted items and any unnecessary sent items, and go through any completed project or task folders and ensure that anything you are keeping is essential to your records. Cleaning out your email will ensure you are managing your email files and disk space effectively.