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Reference Files-Best Practices?

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  • Reference Files-Best Practices?

    One of my areas of backlog is Reference Files. Can't move desktop stuff to files because the file drawers are full. Can't move stuff from the file drawers to Reference because the closets and office space for reference material is full.

    Any suggestions for clearing up Reference Backlog?

    Do you set aside time to purge your Reference Files? How often?

    What are your best tips for dealing with Reference materials?

  • #2
    I probably have a skim through my reference files and purge anything I no longer want to keep on a monthly basis.

    I'm moving most of my archived stuff into digital format, using a Scansnap scanner. I also move archived email and document files into PDF format and store those as part of my archived projects.

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    • #3
      Be ruthless: I dont know your industry but usually information has a shelf life.

      I had a 4 drawer filing cabinet bulging and stuff elsewhere too - then I appled the shelf life rule to what I had and immediately was down to 2 drawers worth of stuff.

      Just set reasonable parameters for what is actually needed. Something I have been meaning to try is to put a sticker on something when you use it, little dot. And then after a set period of time go through and see what was actually used.

      I am nowhere near the end my own reference material backlog, and I even have some reference stuff in the office as a psychological cushion. I know its not that useful and I wont look at it in the next year, but I feel better for having it there ...

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      • #4
        Originally posted by debbieg View Post
        Any suggestions for clearing up Reference Backlog?

        Do you set aside time to purge your Reference Files? How often?

        What are your best tips for dealing with Reference materials?
        I do a major purge once a year between winter solstice and the end of the year. At that time I look at every single paper file in my filing cabinets and sort it and decide if I can trash anything or if it can be scanned and saved electronically. I have three 4 drawer file cabinets and one 2 drawer file cabinet that are stuffed somewhat over-full. This year I am going to add a similar project to check every folder and file on my computer as that is getting huge with what is probably unneeded stuff as well.

        I also have a slowly decreasing number of bankers boxes of paper files that I am scanning and then shredding. I've been working on that part of my reference backlog for over a year and am about half done. I still have about 10 bankers boxes to sort through.

        New stuff I label well (love my labeler) and file in the reference file cabinets. When I pull a file for use I try to sort through it and see if I can delete any of the items in it.

        Some of my stuff was collected 20-30 years ago, but it's now useful. Some has been for projects that were on my mothers' list for the farm from 25 years ago that we are just now doing. Others are required paper documents that we must keep by federal law and no, scans are not acceptable for some of this stuff. Other stuff I am trying to scan and then toss the paper but that is just moving the filing problem to my computer so while it's useful it's not a total solution. A lot of my stuff is not available on the web but if your stuff is then I'd delete as much as you can and just google when you need things.

        PS

        This post prompted me to take a look at my paper backlog project and try to estimate how much I need to still finish As a result I've decided to start on that project after Thanksgiving instead if waiting until the solstice. I'm hoping I can completely clear the filing backlog this year.

        So thanks for prompting me to take another look at a major project of mine!
        Last edited by Oogiem; 11-10-2010, 07:09 AM. Reason: Add the postscript

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        • #5
          Originally posted by debbieg View Post
          Do you set aside time to purge your Reference Files? How often?

          What are your best tips for dealing with Reference materials?
          I have a recurring task in Outlook to purge my hard copy materials every six months. I do the online ones in a more ad hoc way - it's less crucial because I'm not going to run out of virtual space, but if there get to be so many files that I can't see the wood for the trees, then I'll do a quick purge while I'm on hold on the phone or similar.

          My "best tip" is not to put anything in a hard copy Reference file if you could find it again online without too much trouble. Most of my hard copy Reference stuff is handwritten meeting notes - and then only if they genuinely contain information that isn't actionable, but that I think I might need in the future.

          The main thing I'd like to improve in that area is moving some of that information online - some of it should probably be in our online CRM system, for instance, which would not only free up some physical space, but also make it easier to find the information again when I need it. I tend to get lazy about transferring it.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by lizwithhat View Post
            My "best tip" is not to put anything in a hard copy Reference file if you could find it again online without too much trouble.
            I struggle with this one. How reliable is the internet to keep the documents I want on file forever? I have had a few times when I went back to a website bookmark only to find that the webmaster deleted the info I was looking for. Or, the site is gone completely. Ok, I can try waybackmachine, but I am now printing to pdf and storing on my PC, any web reference info. Or, I am using evernote to keep a copy of the web pages. I still haven't figured out a best practice for this. Any suggestions?

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            • #7
              Originally posted by kglade View Post
              How reliable is the internet to keep the documents I want on file forever? ..... Any suggestions?
              In my experience not very reliable at all. The internet is good for when it's basic data that won't change, (how to convert C to F, normal body temperature of a healthy sheep, stuff like that) or is current stuff that changes frequently (drug dosages for new drugs or dewormers, best place to buy old tractor parts and the like). For all the in-between stuff I also now clip and save. I was using Evernote, don't like the cloud sync and storage, so I'm testing DevonThink. Advantage is I can use DT as a database index but leave my files as PDF or clipping files in my main computer system.

              Another factor is that sometimes it's helpful to see the historical data that you thought was not useful but just happened to keep. I find myself locating and reading old ag research books from 1914-1945. They have more useful info on management for small farms than current books do. I also find that having a history of say, 30 years of sketches of what the farm should look like is quite useful. Such an archive is not built up in a day or year but over the constant keeping and storing of data that may become useful in future. Climate data is like that too, we have weather records from 30 years ago on our farm that are very helpful now.

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              • #8
                I try and keep everything I can as an electronic document and learnt the hard way to back it up.

                I lost 5 years worth of reference material when my pc was stolen - not backed up cos it was a desktop - hard way.

                If its online what I do is copy and paste anything that wont print to a pdf into a document, save it in a folder.

                My computer folders are organised with clear names, and clear file names with dates.

                so I could have \reference\diabetes\diabetesuk\newsletters\newslet ter nov 10.pdf as an example

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                • #9
                  I rarely find I really need any information that's only on one website and nowhere else. If the website I originally bookmarked is gone, I can usually find the information again somewhere else with a quick Google search - in fact, often searching is quicker than finding the bookmark! I guess it may depend on the particular profession or area of interest, though.

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