5 Office Filing System Mistakes to Avoid

An effective office filing system takes time to set up right, but it will save time and confusion down the road. Avoid these common pitfalls.

An office filing system is a tool that can support the management and growth of your small business, or it can hinder its operation. Here are the five most disruptive mistakes small businesses make in setting up an office filing system and how to correct them:

1. Not Having a Central Filing Cabinet That All Employees Can Access When employees are permitted to store files at their desks that others need access to, it makes it difficult for information to be shared. For example, client files, forms and marketing materials should be stored in a central location, says Regina Leeds, author of One Year to an Organized Work Life. Employees can keep files at their desks that are related to projects they are individually responsible for, but files others need access to should be in a central filing cabinet.

2. Organizing Files Purely Alphabetically Sure, files need to be stored in alphabetical order, but within major categories, such as "Legal" or "Onboarding." Creating individually labeled files for, say, clients by name or office supplies by product makes it much more time consuming to find what you need in a hurry, says Leeds. Instead, create hanging file categories, such as "Job Applicants" or "Online Advertising," and then store individual files within them for each applicant or advertising venue.

3. Not Using Manila File Folders Within Hanging Folders Leeds points out that while many small businesses file paperwork directly into labeled hanging files, a lack of individually labeled manila folders can make it difficult to refile papers later. For example, papers thrown into a hanging file labeled "Marketing" quickly become a hodgepodge of disparate information. A better, more efficient, approach is to use manila folders labeled with subcategory names, such as "Print Advertising," "Pay-Per-Click Advertising" and "Publicity." Papers related to each of those subcategories can then be refiled appropriately, and will be easier to track down later.

4. Handwriting File Labels While your handwriting may be completely clear to you, to others searching for files, it may seem illegible. Trying to decipher file names is time-consuming and inefficient. "Spring for a label maker or print your file names from your computer on label sheets," says Leeds.

5. Not Having Physical Files Mirror Electronic File Names If you have a file in your office filing cabinet labeled "Publicity Opportunities," a similar file on your computer desktop shouldn't be labeled "PR" or "Media." Creating different names for the same types of files can be confusing — for you and your colleagues trying to track down information. The likelihood that you won't remember where documents are is higher when your files aren't synced, says Leeds. It's more efficient to have your physical and digital files match exactly. Setting up an office filing system effectively takes time, says Leeds, "but what it saves in the long run in terms of time, energy and money can be huge."