What should I name my files? This is a common question that I get asked when I’m working with clients to declutter and organise their personal paperwork.
I see a lot of people agonise over how to name their files. Worrying that without the correct file name, they will not remember where their paperwork is kept. As a result, people often become stuck when attempting to establish a filing system. In this blog, I’m going to share with you some strategies on how to go about naming your personal files to ensure you can easily find them.
The key to establishing a sound filing system is to create one that is meaningful to you and is simple to use. A personalised and accessible filing system will ensure you continue to use it in the long run, and you will never forget where your documents are kept. Here are some ways you can go about naming and structuring your personal filing system.
1. Establish a Personalised Filing System by Playing the Muttering Game.
The muttering game is a concept that I read about in Judith Kolberg’s book Conquering Chronic Disorganization and is a technique that I use with many of my clients. How it works is you pick up a piece of paper and say (mutter) the first thing that comes to mind. The initial thing you say becomes the name of the file, and the corresponding document gets filed in it. Put simply you would create the file based on the first word that comes to mind when you pick up the document. For example, you may pick up a bill, and the first thing that comes to mind is, money down the drain. Money down the drain would become the name of the file, and all bills would be filed in it.
In most cases, this is my preferred approach as you are creating a filing system whereby you have a more personalised connection with the paperwork in it. The benefit of a more personalised filing system is it will increase your chances of maintaining it as you know how it works.
You can learn more about the muttering game and other organising strategies in Judith Kolberg’s book Conquering Disorganization.
2. Create Broad Filing Categories to Store Your Paperwork In.
While I love the muttering game, it is not for everyone, and in some cases, I have had clients struggle with coming up with words for their files. In this situation, I come up with recommendations for their documents based on broad categories. Below is a list of some broad categories you can use:
- Mental Health
- Personal / Important Documents
- Physical Health
You can disregard ones that don’t apply to you or modify them, so they relate more to your circumstances. You can also come up with your own meaningful categories. The key here is not to focus on detail and to file the paperwork under each of these broad categories. For example, if you get a bank statement, you would file that under banking if you have a report from your doctor, you would file that under physical health and so on.
Note that the type and amount of categories you have will depend on the type and volume of paperwork you possess. Remember to keep the categories as broad as possible and avoid having too many as this can lead to a rigid filing system to manage. If the amount of your paperwork is low or the content in each category is similar, then a broad filing system should be all that you need. For many of my clients, I only recommend broad categories as this makes it easier for them to manage.
3. Create Sub-categories Only If Required.
Suppose your volume of paperwork in your broad files contains varies types of documents. In that case, you can break them down into sub-categories. Only do this if it is necessary and will make it easier for you to manage the files. Setting this up would involve going through the paperwork in your broad files and deciding it they can and should be broken down into sub-categories. Sub-categories could look like the below:
- Bank Statements
- Investment Account
Or you could file by providers.
- City West Water
- City of Melbourne
- NDIS Plans
- Service Provider
- Service Agreements
Personal / Important documents
- Certificates (e.g. birth)
- Travel (e.g. passport)
- Home Insurance
Physical Health – sub-categories for physical health could be based on the issue:
- Knee Operation
or based on doctor, (I have seen this work well with some clients):
- Dr. Carter
- Dr. House
- Dr. Howser
- Dr. Quinn
- Rental Property
The above are just some examples of sub-categories. Your sub-categories will vary depending on your circumstances and the volume of the paperwork. When I’m working with clients, I offer the recommendations, and we tweak them until we find something that works. In some cases, we may use the muttering game technique to establish their categories.
Also, in some instances, a sub-category may be larger in volume and in this situation, I recommend reviewing the content and declutter where applicable. If however, the volume of content is still high, you may want to consider making this a standalone file. For example, if dental was a sub-category in physical health, but over time the content increased, it may make more sense to upgrade it with its own broad file and sub-categories.
So, in this case, the Physical Health file would change from this:
- Knee Operation
- Knee Operation
- Dr. Teeth
- Wisdom Teeth Operation
Avoid getting too detailed and having too many categories as this will make your filing system harder to manage. Again how you structure your files will depend on the content you have and also the volume.
The above recommendations not only work well for paper files but can also work well for electronic files.
When it comes to setting up electronic files, avoid the temptation to establish subfolders within subfolders within subfolders as this will make locating files laborious. You should aim for a two to three-click approach, meaning it should only take 2 – 3 mouse clicks to find what you are looking for.
Also, if you have a combination of both paper and electronic files, be consistent and set up both systems to be identical with the same file names. Having a similar approach for both paper and electronic files will ensure that you can find what you need regardless of the file format and where it is stored.
Organising your paperwork can be an overwhelming process, but it is achievable. The key is to establish a filing system that is meaningful to you, one that is easy to use and that you will maintain in the long run. You can set up a personalised filing system by using the muttering game technique or using and modifying the categories that I have suggested above. If you have any comments or questions, please let me know. If you’re not sure where, to begin with, your paperwork, get in touch to see how we can work together.
Creating Positive Spaces
0401 149 185