Are you staring at a mountain of paperwork that’s been built up over months, or even years? Scratching your head and just wishing Marie Kondo could fly in and organize it all?
Luckily, you don’t need a guru to organize your paperwork. You just need to dedicate a little time, elbow grease and focus to turn that pile of unorganized chaos into a neat and organized system that you can actually use.
And that’s what we’re going to go over in this article. Here’s how to organize your paperwork efficiently so you don’t have to rip your entire office apart looking for a single document.
1. Commit to Going Electronic
First and foremost, you have to get rid of your paper filing system.
There’s just way too much technology out there that makes organizing paperwork and documents for your business much easier. Not to mention that more and more companies are going paperless anyways, so you’ll likely have much fewer hard copies on your hands anyway.
Hopefully, we don’t have to “sell” you on the benefits of switching to a digital storage solution, but here are just a few reasons:
- It’s better for the environment: Did you know that 70% of office waste consists of paper? Every year we create over 80 millions tons of paper waste, and much of that isn’t getting recycled.
- Easier to store: The problem with paper documents is the more you have, the more physical space it takes up. So your office starts to fill up with filing cabinets or in some cases, random piles of paper all over the place
- Easier to sort through: It’s a whole lot easier to search for a document on your computer (just literally type the name of the document you’re looking for) than it is to fumble through folders of hard copies to find a single document.
The list goes on and on, but the punchline is switching to electronic documents will save you time, money and unnecessary stress.
2. Get Everything Together
Alright, now that you’ve committed to switching your business from paper to digital documents, you’ll need to convert all those old papers you have laying around to a digital format. Before you freak out at the idea of scanning and uploading all those papers, we’ve got good news for you. You probably don’t have to convert every document.
Although you’re going to reorganize all your documents, you can save time and money by only converting the high priority documents into digital format. This includes things like financial records, recent contracts, or blank documents you use as templates.
Of course, if you want to make a digital version of all your documents, that’s up to you. We’ll give you some solutions for this later on.
But for now, you just need to gather up all your paperwork. If it’s scattered across several file cabinets or even multiple locations, you need to account for everything you have.
3. Categorize Your Documents
Once you have all your documents in one place, it’s time to create categories. The reason your paperwork has become such an unwieldy beast is likely because you stored all your document types together. Or you may not have categorized them well enough.
So now, you’ll need to come up with a categorization strategy that makes sense not only for the current documents, but any future paperwork you anticipate having as well. There are a few different approaches you can take for categorizing your documents. And it’ll differ business to business.
But an example of broad categories that might make sense for most businesses might be:
- Finances: Any type of financial records for your business including tax documents, business expenses, banking documents, etc.
- Legal: Legal paperwork for your business such as incorporation papers, business filing, etc.
- Marketing: Marketing specific paperwork such as brand guidelines, style guide, etc.
- Contracts: All of your client contracts
- Vendors: Any paperwork related to the vendors you work with such as contracts (different from client contracts mentioned above), service agreements, etc.
- Employee records: All of your HR paperwork such as offer letters, company policies, applications, W-2’s, etc.
Again, the example below consists of broad categories. If you want to be a bit more granular, you can break down your categories to be even more specific such as:
- Tax documents
- Banking records
- Accounts Receivable & Accounts Payable
- Vendor Contracts
Just keep in mind that getting too granular with the way you organize paperwork can make your system even more complicated. For instance, you might have certain categories with only a few documents while others have hundreds.
Find a happy medium between categories that are broad enough to cover all your different documents, but not so broad that it becomes messy.
Once your categories are set, use buckets or trays to start placing all the documents you gathered in the previous step in the appropriate categories.
As you go through this process, you might find that some documents don’t fit into any of the categories you originally made. That’s fine. Simply set them off to the side, and keep going. Then you can reconfigure your categories based on what you have leftover.
4. Separate the Most Important Documents
Now that all your documents are categorized, you need to go through each category and specify which documents are the most important. This will help you determine which ones to convert to digital documents, as well as any documents that you can potentially get rid of.
Take a look at these articles for tips on how long to keep different documents:
- How Long Should You Keep Financial Records?
- How Long Should You Keep Payroll Records?
- How Long Should You Keep Business Documents?
Those articles will help you gauge how important some of your older documents are. This doesn’t mean you should necessarily throw them away, but it just might not be worth the hassle of converting certain documents to digital if they’re longer of any use.
Some other ways to filter out the important documents are to ask yourself:
- When’s the last time you used it? If it’s been years since you’ve used a document or referenced it, it’s probably not vital to running your business.
- When was the document made? For recent paperwork like new contracts, new bank account information or similar documents, it’s a good idea to make them digital. Generally, anything created within the past 12 months or so is a good starting point.
- Who uses it? Documents that are used or referenced by multiple people in your business should be a top priority. One of the biggest benefits of electronic documents is they’re accessible to your entire team, so everyone’s not using a single hard copy.
- Will I need it soon? Even if you haven’t used a document in a while, if you anticipate needing it within the next few months it’ll be nice to have it handy.
- Can it be replaced? There are certain documents that you might not use, but if you were to ever lose them it’d be a headache to replace. This might be things like paperwork that contains sensitive information, business verification documents or any type of government paperwork that requires a long process to replace if you were to ever lose it.
With that framework, start sorting through all your documents and prioritizing them. You can use sticky labels like these to mark the priority documents in each category.
5. Convert Your Paper Documents
Now comes the “fun” part. Ok, we’re being a little sarcastic here. But with all your documents categorized and prioritized, it shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s time to turn all of your paper documents into digital ones.
You have a couple of options for getting this done. The first is, of course, to manually upload them all yourself. There are plenty of apps to help streamline this process. If you’re not dealing with a ton of paperwork this might be a viable solution. Just set aside some time and dedicate it to getting the job done.
If you’re trying to organize a ton of paperwork however, doing it all yourself can be a huge task. Even if you have employees to help, it’s going to take a ton of time. In that scenario, it might be worth outsourcing it. There are companies that specialize in helping businesses turn their paper documents into digital ones.
The downside to this is you’ll have to pay for the service. But when you think of all the time you’ll save (not to mention they’re experts at it so they’ll likely make fewer mistakes) it could be well worth the one-time investment.
6. Go Digital From Now On
Once you’ve gone through this process of organizing your paperwork, it’ll be a huge relief. The last thing you want to do is slip back into bad habits by using hard copies again. So the final step in this process is to maintain a digital document workflow.
The easiest way to do this is by using a tool like eversign, that allows you to create and sign digital documents without ever having to print anything out. Not only can you create reusable templates, but all your documents will be stored in the software so you can easily access it.
Keep Your Paperwork Organized
Organizing paperwork isn’t the most fun activity in the world, but it’s a necessity. Invest a little time into setting up your system properly and you’ll thank yourself for it later.