Electronic Files

Organize Your Electronic Files

How quickly can you find an electronic file? Are your files scattered throughout the computer in any number of places such as the hard drive, documents, the cloud or portable storage? Electronic folders that are not filed in their right locations can be just as messy and cluttered as paper folders.

So much of what we do today is electronic that we need a plan to organize electronic files similar to the way we organize paper files. While many offices still rely on paper to some extent, we are gradually moving away from paper to storing documents electronically which is a compelling reason to set up a system to organize electronic file folders.

There are numerous benefits of an organized electronic filing system. Here are some of the reasons to act now and get your computer files in order:

  • Saves you time when you can find what you need quickly and easily, even years later.
  • Easy to maintain.
  • Helps you be more productive, and look more professional, especially when your boss needs a file now.
  • Keeps documents current because the system identifies which documents can be disposed of and when.
  • Saves physical storage space and money by reducing the number of filing cabinets and office floor space needed.
  • Uses your time more efficiently by reducing the time you, or an assistant, spends retrieving and re-filing physical records.

If you share files with others, here are some advantages to having organized file folders:

  • Team members can access shared folders and find what they need quickly, without interrupting anyone.
  • Document ownership is easy to determine.
  • Fewer copies of documents need to be printed as long as you, and the other team members, can access the document easily on line.
  • Less printing = less paper clutter.
  • It is easy to edit a document and share it with others.
  • New employees can be brought up to speed quickly.

Tips to organize your electronic filing system:

  1. Make sure that the electronic filing system meets the needs of the office, that all documents have a place in the system and that everyone understands and buys into the system.
  2. Create a flow chart (electronic or paper) showing the type of information that will be available and the departments or people needing access to specific files.
  3. Set up a system everyone will be comfortable with and will use.
  4. Mirror your paper folders using the same headings and topics as your paper system. The more similar the two systems, the better.
  5. Be consistent about naming conventions. Set up files, folders and subfolders that everyone will find meaningful and easy to understand.
  6. Limit the number of clicks to three: file, folder and subfolder. There is no need to go any deeper. Note: whatever filing name system you choose, it needs to match your needs and/or the group’s needs.
  7. Use a hierarchal system to organize files instead of a horizontal one. Group all projects and files relating to a particular project, person or thing together instead of using separate folders. For example, a hierarchy for a client file folder might look like this:
    • File: Clients
    • Folder: Individual Client Names
    • Subfolders: Descriptive topic names such as communication, contact information, taxes by year, etc.
  8. Follow file naming conventions including client account numbers and revision date. Use underscores, not spaces. For example, an individual client name may look like this: tomjones_3579_11-30-14. Keep file names under 27 characters, all lower case.
  9. Use the same format for dates. The key is to be consistent.
  10. Add as much information into the file name as possible so it will not be necessary to open it. Be descriptive. An example of a subfolder under communication might be: casesummary1114 (for November, 2014). Don’t just put in “letter.”
  11. If others also work on the document, add your initials at the end.
  12. Avoid abbreviations and codes that are not immediately obvious to everyone.
  13. Set up an index for quick reference, particularly if you use shortened versions of words such as DFT for draft or CTR for contract. Make sure that information is readily available to everyone with access to the file folders. If an abbreviation is not necessary, do not use it.
  14. Delete previous revisions once document is final.
  15. Create a records retention schedule based on function and date to ensure that outdated electronic documents are disposed of when they are no longer needed.
  16. Be ruthless about the documents you save. The more data on the computer the more difficult it is to find necessary documents.
  17. Move frequently-used files to the top of the file folder list by adding an “a” or ! (any symbol works) at the beginning of the file name.
  18. File as you go. Do not wait until you have a long list.
  19. Clean out your file folders at specific times (after a certain number, every Friday, etc.)
  20. Back up files regularly.

Computer Screens: The Bigger The Better?

Computer Screen

With less paper in the office, many of us find that we do a lot of reading and work on our computers. Do larger screens or several monitors make it any easier? The consensus seems to be “yes”.  Once you try two monitors, there’s no going back, according to Dave Kinsey, president of Total Networks.  Several studies show that, with two monitors, tasks are completed more quickly with fewer errors compared to using one monitor. How nice to have several screens open at one time without having to switch back and forth!

If two monitors are great, why not five or six? Kinsey cites a paperless law office that does just this. The six monitors are open to calendars, email, the company’s practice management program, documents, a screen for another application and the two end screens in landscape which are perfect for spreadsheets. The monitors cover a lot of screen real estate. When you can read  two documents side by side, the need to print out or keep paper is almost completely eliminated.

While I was mulling over the idea of how many monitors would fit on my desk, I came upon an article posted in The Lawyerist suggesting one BIG screen. Todd Hendrickson posits in his article “In a Paperless Office, A Bigger Monitor is Better” that a jumbo monitor (27” or larger) is better than multi-monitors if you spend most of your time reading and writing. The key advantage? You can see several full-page desktop views with minimal scrolling.  All it takes is a few keyboard shortcuts. In essence, it can do the same thing as multi-monitors and still leave room on your desk. For more details, check out http://lawyerist.com/in-a-paperless-office-a-bigger-monitor-is-better/.

How many monitors do you use?

Calendar Call Article Published

Check out our article, “Managing Your Office When You’re Not There” in the current issue of “Calendar Call”, published by the General Practice and Trial section of the State Bar of Georgia. The article offers many tips and suggestions for attorneys on how to handle email, phone calls, and clients in your absence. http://tinyurl.com/3clkajl

Manage The Time You Spend On Email

As efficiency gurus, we’re all about saving time. One way is by being more efficent with your email.

Email is the #1 problem almost every business person deals with daily. It’s too easy to become so engrossed in email that an hour — or two — has gone by and you still have not gotten to the important tasks that day.

We recommend using a timer or your phone to keep track of time. How do you manage the time you spend on email?

Are Taxes On Your Mind

If you have put off taxes, and many people have, there is still time to buckle down and finish them before April 15th. Asking for an extension just prolongs the misery and weighs you down. You know they need to be done so why not just get on with it? Now. There is no more time left to procrastinate.

How to start? Here are 10 easy-to-follow steps:

1) Set up a date to meet with your accountant, if you use one.
2) Schedule time on your calendar to work on your taxes (and only your taxes in this allotted time). Be sure to keep the appointments.
3) If your accountant has given you a worksheet, read it through carefully it so you know exactly what is needed.
4) Pull out all of your papers and divide them into categories. Print the documents that are on the computer or copy them onto a USB or CD for the accountant.
5) Sort the papers again, this time into subcategories. For example, you might begin with a stack labeled clients and gradually whittle it down to a number of individual clients.
6) Write down your questions so you do not forget to ask themyour accountant or a knowledgeable source.
7) Call for the documents that are missing.
8) Label each stack of documents, using binder clips to separate them. While all of these stacks may not be needed for the accountant or the IRS, it helps to stack them in an organized pile.
9) Put in as much energy and time as needed to finish the job on time. Forego weekends and week nights, if that is what it takes.
10) Make sure the government office signs a receipt and returns it to you. Keep the receipt in your tax file. If the IRS later on says that they never received your taxes, you have the proof that they were sent. This happens more than you may realize.

Now sit back and relax while your friends and colleagues scurry around in panic mode trying to meet their extension dates because they put their taxes off. And you didn’t!

Clean Up Your Workspace in 2013!

Did you know that January 9 is Clean Up Your WorkSpace Day? It’s that important and crucial for your success that a special day has been designated. And it is at the beginning of the new year. As productivity specialists, we highly endorse sprucing up your workspace. It will help you be more organized and efficient in 2013.

Try this tip: Limit the items on the top of your desk to phone, computer, current projects, office supplies and planner.

These items are all essential organizing tools that sit on the top of your desk within arm’s reach and help you stay organized and efficiently manage your work day.

These five work tools will help you concentrate on the task at hand and help improve your productivity.

Your Planner: This is your #1 work tool. If you don’t do anything else, update and check your planner at least once or twice a day, if not more. It doesn’t matter if it is paper or electronic. What does count is a dependable system that keeps all meetings, contacts and tasks in one place and handy.

Your Computer: Are you able to find the electronic document you need immediately? From personal experience, we can vouch that a task takes a lot longer when you spend the first half hour (or hour) searching for a file folder.

Organizing your computer file folders now — in the beginning of 2013 — is well worth it.

Your Active Projects: What are you working on today? Reserve your desk surface for projects and tasks that represent today’s priority items. Projects and tasks that will be priorities at a later date can be kept in your working files drawer or a step-up file folder.

Your Phone: Keep a phone log or spiral notebook beside your phone to use as a record of voice mail messages. Or, record the information into a to-do list on your computer that synchs with your cell phone for easy callbacks.

If the caller is someone whom you will need to call again, record their information in your contact list. So long back-of-envelope!

Supplies: If you have to shove aside stationery, envelopes and boxes of business cards to reclaim your work surface, it may be time to rethink what you need at hand. Keep a few items and move the rest to the supply closet.

Take a look at your own desktop tools. Are they going to help you stay the course?

By following these tips, 2013 will be off to a great start!

 

Close Out The Year: Try This Checklist

  • Start gathering your papers and electronic files needed for taxes. Yes, now. Credit card and bank statements, receipts, anything you will need to take to your accountant. And, speaking of your accountant …
  • Meet with your accountant to review your situation and determine what, if any, actions to take before the official close of the year.
  • Pay outstanding invoices and avoid back dating checks in January.
  • Decide if money owed you now should be paid this year or in January. There may be advantages to moving the revenue into the following year.
  • Archive 2012 email. If your inbox is filled to the brim, here’s your opportunity to reduce your email volume. And compressed email takes up less space. It’s a win-win.

Vacation Without Your Tech Stuff

It’s Memorial Day weekend and many of us have made plans for relaxation away from the office. Can you switch off your your smart phone, Ipad, and laptop? Or are they going too? Study after study shows that we return to work energized after a clean break from technology and the day-to-day routine. Not being encumbered with work-related problems leaves our mind free to enjoy new experiences and the people around us.

What can you do to ease the transition so you can enjoy a care-free vacation? Here are some tips:

1) Tackle projects that need attending to weeks in advance. This is definitely not the time to procrastinate.

2) Allow plenty of time just before you leave to finish tasks that are on your mind.

3) Cancel or reschedule meetings and appointments. That alone will help put your mind at ease.

4) Leave time for “re-entry” into the business world when you return from your getaway. Put off appointments and meetings for a day or so until you have had a chance to get your bearings.

Now are you ready to leave your technology aids behind and bring back wonderful memories that will make you smile   every time you remember them?

Need help getting organized before you leave for vacation? Email Leslie and Barbara at: nfo@ItsTimeToGetOrganized.com or call 404-250-9600 to speak to us directly.

 

 

Spring: The Ideal Time To Attack Office Clutter

Most of us think of springtime as the perfect time to get rid of clutter in our homes. We envision coats bulging from the closet and drawers filled with things you don’t need any longer. But the same problem exists in many offices and home  offices; piles of paper, files strewn about and random items taking over good real estate on the desk or credenza. If this describes your work area, here are a few ways to clear your space (and your head).

Ask yourself:

1) Are you honestly going to read those papers and magazines? If the answer is no, then give yourself permission to toss them out without feeling guilty.

2) If I change my mind after I’ve thrown out a paper, then what? In many companies the person who sent the document originally keeps a copy. Or, the information may be easy to pull up on the web. Then again it might be available through a professional group such as the local bar association.

Clutter may not just be physical. It comes in other forms as well. How many times has a thought popped into your head and then disappears? No matter how often you push it aside, it keeps returning. Write it down. Often, you need to act on it. Once you add it to your to-do list or assign it to your calendar, then you no longer have to keep remembering it. The best part: your head is now clear to focus on important things.

Clutter can also be technological. Your computer, smart phone, iPad or Kindle can be loaded down with documents and apps that you do not use. They’re in the way when you are searching, making it difficult to find what you are looking for. It prevents you from being creative and saps your energy and focus.

Make the clutter disappear. It sounds easy enough but, unfortunately, will not happen without you taking action. Set aside time to deal with it, even though you prefer to be working on something else. It could easily take a few hours which you may want to do all at once or in small increments. As long as the time is blocked out on the calendar, you can feel confident that the job will get done. Before you know it you’ll be back in control of your desk and technology tools.

 

How To Get Your Taxes Done by April 15th

If you have put off taxes, and many people have, there is still time to buckle down and finish them before April 15th. Asking for an extension just prolongs the misery and weighs you down. You know they need to be done so why not just get on with it? Now. There is no more time left to procrastinate.

How to start? Here are 10 easy-to-follow steps:

1) Set up a date to meet with your accountant, if you use one.
2) Schedule time on your calendar to work on your taxes (and only your taxes in this allotted time). Be sure to keep the appointments.
3) If your accountant has given you a worksheet, read it through carefully it so you know exactly what is needed.
4) Pull out all of your papers and divide them into categories. Print the documents that are on the computer or copy them onto a USB or CD for the accountant.
5) Sort the papers again, this time into subcategories. For example, you might begin with a stack labeled clients and gradually whittle it down to a number of individual clients.
6) Write down your questions so you do not forget to ask your accountant or a knowledgeable source.
7) Call for the documents that are missing.
8) Label each stack of documents, using binder clips to separate them. While all of these stacks may not be needed for the accountant or the IRS, it helps to stack them in an organized pile.
9) Put in as much energy and time as needed to finish the job on time. Forego weekends and week nights, if that is what it takes.
10) Make sure the government office signs a receipt and returns it to you. Keep the receipt in your tax file. If the IRS later on says that they never received your taxes, you have the proof that they were sent. This happens more than you may realize.

Now sit back and relax while your friends and colleagues scurry around in panic mode trying to meet their extension dates because they put their taxes off. And you didn’t!