Quaker A-Z: M is for Maintenance of Files

Planned Files Maintenance

Regular blocks of planned maintenance can help keep your files intelligible for yourself and others.
When I did my Business Administration and Management Diploma (way back in the last century!), we were recommended to block out half a day once a month to deal with filing.  All the paperwork that had arrived in the in-tray – and to look forward to the paperless office that would be arriving shortly (when this wouldn’t be necessary any more…).
scrabble tiles spelling out, 'mend the roof before it rains'
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
Messy pile of papers
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

Little and often

No client I’ve spoken to over the last decade has an afternoon a month they’re willing to donate to their files. If you’re the exception – there are many many examples of filing systems with colour-coded labels, tags and stationery galore.

I urge you though to consider if the next role holder will be willing to maintain a complex filing system. I also remind clients that they will need to maintain this system – when tired, stressed and lacking time. Instead of developing a complex system think of a system that will work then and put it into place.

Simplicity and Sustainability are important factors here!

So have big categories and file things into them in smaller chunks. For example – Accounts can hold everything, then divide into ‘this years’, ‘next years’ and ‘previous years’. Or ‘payroll’, ‘utilities’, ‘building works’ etc.


Work to empty your inbox (hopefully generic) on a regular basis. Use the time you need to allocate to prepare for meetings, or to finalise minutes, list out action points etc.

I call this being nice to ‘future you’ who will be delighted to find those items already sorted rather than facing a mess!
I have used ‘Getting Things Done’ a time and item management system for years and the most useful piece of information is the two-minute rule. If the task will take you less than two minutes then just do it.
And filing that email, or dropping that paper into the appropriate pile/file/box should take less than that!)

Labels and Folders

Using a digital (including email) filing system can make this easier.
Many will allow you to add tags or labels so that you can have one email in more than one ‘file’ for example the emailed report on a committee could be labelled both ‘2023 05 AM’, and ‘committee name’ so it is found in both email account folders and ‘2023 07 AM’ as you know that the matter will be introduced this month but you’re going to ask for input so the matter won’t be discussed at AM until July.
MBSC0036 Generic Email Accounts

It can be filed into the July AM folder in your computer or cloud-based document storage system.

Or both!

It is much easier than printing out duplicate copies and filing them all by hand.

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