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A small business blog featuring tips to help entrepreneurs succeed in the small business world. Topics include family business, human resources, marketing, money, networking, operations, ownership, startup, taxes and technology.
Tips for Sorting Through Overwhelming Files

There comes a time in the life of our filing cabinet when there is no room to spare for any future files, and the ones contained within are so old we don’t remember where they came from. It’s time to sort your files and weed out the ones you no longer need.

Here are some tips for sorting through your overwhelming stack of files:

1. Establish a Closing System
If you don’t start a means of closing your files when your task for that client is complete, then you will never have enough space for them all. Keep in mind that any files that contain legal documentation, whether you’re actually an attorney or just have a contract with the client, must not be destroyed (by law) until ten years after they have been closed. If you have a lot of files like that, the best thing to do is rent a storage unit to keep your closed files in, so that they don’t take space away from your actual work environment.

There are many ways to keep track of your closed files, so it’s a matter of personal preference. The crucial points are making sure that you keep a list of the closed files by client name (or any alternative names associated with the file), and which box they are in.

As an example, when I close files, I add the clients name to an alphabetically organized list, and label the boxes by year that the files were closed. My first closed box for 2007 would be labeled “2007-A,” my second box “2007-B” and so forth. I then indicate on my list of closed files which box that particular file is located in.

2. Sorting Through the Stack
If you have never closed files before, it is likely that you will have a lot of files to sort through when you start. Here are some “rules” to keep in mind as you go:

• Don’t try and read the whole file, otherwise it will take days for you to accomplish your task. Briefly scan a few of the documents contained in the file to determine if the services you agreed to provide are complete (usually, the last correspondence with the client will let you know). If so, close the file. If not, and nothing has been done on the file in some time, make a note to check the status and contact the client.

• If you don’t remember the file or the client, then it is highly likely that the file can be closed.

• If there are no legal documents contained within the file, and you are considering simply throwing it away, be sure that you have some means of accessing some of the information again, such as a file on your computer. If not, then it is probably better to close it rather than trash it.

Remember, files containing legal documentation cannot be discarded until 10 years have passed (specifically attorneys, according to Supreme Court Rule 4-1.15(j)). Even if you’re not an attorney and the file doesn’t contain legal documents, it might be a good idea to keep it for 5-10 years anyway, simply because a client may call with questions for their records that you may not be able to answer without the file.

When it comes time to get rid of those dusty 10 year old closed files, for the protection of your former clients and your business, it is best to destroy the files, rather than simply throw them away. You have an number of options here, but the best ways are to either shred the files (there are companies who will do this for you if you have a lot) or, literally, burn them (large metal barrels are good for this).

Regardless of your system, it’s important to periodically go through your files to make more space and diminish some of the clutter. Though the process may be lengthy, especially if you’ve never done it before, it will relieve some stress in the end.

Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Enhance Your Image Through Your Words
New Technology Leaves Spell-Check in the Dust
Preparing for an IRS Audit
Connections Trump Contacts
Cut the Clutter!

By Michelle Cramer
Monday, June 4th, 2018 @ 12:01 AM CDT

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