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Thinking About File Organization

writer's filesHi Anne,

I’m in the process of organizing my business files.  So I’m wondering how you have your business files organized. Can you spare some advice on how to organize my files?



Hi JD,

Your question made me thing a bit about how I actually handle business files. I, like most these days, keep files on my computer and paper files. My organization is along the lines of how I think I’ll need to use what ever I decide to keep and file.

Paper Files

For example, in the US our Internal Revenue Service requires us to keep tax paper work roughly forever – up to seven years depending on the circumstances. Since I track my expanses I put receipts needing to be entered in a shoe box on my desk. When I enter them they get moved to one of two boxes on the top of my bookcase – personal expenses and business expenses. From there they can be gathered for my tax guy and ultimately stored in a closet.

Other paper gets stored in three file drawers alphabetically. One drawer is for research, ideas, and what-have-you that have to do with something I might write. When I’m ghostwriting, printouts and such go into a brightly colored folder in a holder on my desk. Other paper that I think I may need gets filed alphabetically.

For example the copy of my birth certificate is in a folder marked birth certificate.  The car gets a folder all it’s own with folders for ownership and repair. My lease and any other issues dealing with my home/office rental go into a folder with street name, in this case Menlo Ave. on it.

Computer Files

My approach to computer files is roughly the same. Each blog has it’s own file on my desktop and in email. Within those folders are sub-folders for images, code snippets and what-have-you.

Each client also has a folder in email and in documents. When I invoice I do so out of an invoicing folder – not sure why, but I wanted them all in one place. I keep a log on each client and often actually duplicate emails into the log – I use this to track time for them and/or for me.

I’ve got a Current Projects file which is about my projects, an Idea file.

It’s all pretty organic. I also realize I don’t make much distinction between business and personal files. I know which are which, but since I work at home I don’t see much reason to separate them. Others will, I’m sure, disagree.

While there are theories of organization and you’ll find professionals who will help you get organized there way (the really good ones will help you figure out what works for you), the whole reason for the organization is for you to be able to find what you need.

We’ve all got our own methods. For example, I will not depend on my phone to keep phone numbers because I know as soon as I drop it they’re gone. So I maintain a paper phone book. I also keep a couple of small notebooks on the desk to write down phone messages and anything else I want, including sometimes notes from meditation.

Every now and again I’ll go through the files, either on my computer or the paper files and dump what I’m reasonably sure I won’t need.

And my computer is backed up, automatically offside with Carbonite. I love Carbonite because I don’t have to think about it.

John Soares is an authority on getting organized. His book on Intelligent Productivity, although for writers, has sections on files that might be helpful.

How do you organize your business files?


Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Tomasa Feagans

    Nice post…staying organized is key. I also use Evernote to help keep track of various web clippings, and Mozy to do my online backup for my 3 computers…1 of which was stolen last year, so it really came in handy 🙂
    Tomasa Feagans recently posted..JamoramaMy Profile

  • Jarod Online

    Hey Ann, thanks for the blog post. It was really helpful!
    Jarod Online recently posted..I Discovered I’m already a Great WriterMy Profile

    • Anne

      Good Jarod – it’s meant to be. Feel free to ask more questions.

  • Ah, I love my fellow paranoid (but smart IMHO) writers.

    For taxes, I have an accordion file by month where I put my receipts and check stubs in the back. I also record them online in an Excel document for a number of sorting options (e.g., by month, by type, by vendor).

    I have paper and computer files for my clients. My paper files are by project and kept in 3-divider folders with fasteners-has correspondence, marketing/research info and drafts.

    My client computer files have sub-folders by project-e.g., blog posts/white papers/case studies. My invoices for all clients are in an Invoice folder with sub-categories by month/year.

    I have other folders for things like My Marketing, Forms, Portfolio and Industry Info. My files are on my desktop, laptop, portable hard drive and I have backed it up to the Dell back-up system, but am looking for something different. I’ll have to check out Carbonite.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Why You Being Heard Trumps Being LikedMy Profile

    • Anne

      You’re more organized than I am Cathy, but I expected that. I think you’d like Carbonite.

  • Great system, Anne. I have a huge writing projects folder within which I have sub-folders for clients, invoices (yes, I do that too), contracts, bids, marketing stuff, etc, etc, etc. I don’t have client folders in email because I use Gmail and can easily find all communication. If I want to keep track of a particular thread (like negotiating the terms of a job), then I copy the relevant stuff into a document in the client’s folder. I also backup, though I use SugarSync. Phone numbers are a weak point. They are in my phone and backed up to my PC, but I’ll need to doublecheck whether they form part of my general backup.
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Get More from Elance: GiveawayMy Profile

    • Anne

      You’re way better at gmail than I am… still mostly using outlook for much of what I do, but not it’s contacts or calendar.

  • Thanks for the mention Anne.

    I think you have a good system that works for you. I’m especially impressed that you back up your files off-site. So many people don’t do that.

    My computer files are stored on my desktop, my laptop, a portable hard drive at home, and, most importantly, on a portable hard drive at my brother’s house. (Always have to prepare for fire, flood, theft etc.)
    John Soares recently posted..Top Speed Reading Techniques to Boost Your ProductivityMy Profile

    • Anne

      (giggle) am delighted that I can impress you in terms of my organization John – and sort of amazed too. Your book has so many productivity tips… yeah, Carbonite is offsite, easy and close to cheap.

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